After running into strong competition in its recent trip to Alaska, Gonzaga won’t have it much easier in its return to the mainland.
The 19th-ranked Bulldogs play their first official road game Wednesday when they visit St. Joseph’s.
Gonzaga (5-1) hasn’t played since beating Virginia Tech 82-64 on Saturday to finish third at the Great Alaska Shootout. That win came one day after the Bulldogs lost 73-63 to unranked Texas Tech in the semifinals.
The Bulldogs fell five spots in the AP poll, but played much better against the Hokies than they did against the Red Raiders or in a 74-71 win over Western Kentucky to open the tournament in Alaska.
Gonzaga now visits St. Joseph’s (3-1), which reached the regional finals of the NCAA tournament in 2003-2004, before meeting Connecticut on Saturday in Boston as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge.
This marks the fifth meeting between Gonzaga and St. Joseph’s. Each school has won two games in the series, with Gonzaga taking the most recent contest 102-94 at home on Dec. 31, 2005.
The Bulldogs also won 83-80 on Dec. 31, 2001, in their only trip to Philadelphia to face the Hawks
“I have great admiration for their program,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said of Gonzaga. “We’re anxious to play that game. I will be honest with you.”
Gonzaga should be anxious to hit the court again after shooting 54.7 percent from the field - including 8-for-15 from 3-point range - against Virginia Tech.
Forward Abdullahi Kuso had a career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Jeremy Pargo had 10 points with 13 assists. Matt Bouldin added 20 points for the Bulldogs.
Bouldin averaged 16.3 points in Alaska and was named to the all-tournament team.
The 6-foot-9 Kuso, meanwhile, played well above his averages of 9.5 points and 4.3 points in his first season as a starter.
“That’s probably the best game he’s had at Gonzaga, and that’s against some big, athletic frontline guys,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We wanted to ride him as long as we could.”
Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s will look to win its third straight game since a 72-69 defeat at Syracuse on Nov. 13.
Senior Pat Calathes scored 19 points to lead four Hawks players in double-figures in their 74-63 win over Ball State on Tuesday night. The 6-10 Calathes averages a team-leading 17 points.
“The balance we are looking for was there with four double-digit scorers,” said Martelli, whose team shot 50 percent (23-for-46) for the game.
Though St. Joseph’s has won at least 18 games in each of the last three seasons and reached the postseason NIT finals in 2005, it hasn’t been back to the NCAA tournament since going 30-2 in 2004.
That was also the last season the school defeated a ranked team, beating then-No. 17 Wake Forest 84-80 in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals. The Hawks have lost their last seven games versus Top 25 opponents.