Critical for Gonzaga in the last two months of the regular season is the production of Gonzaga senior guard Silas Melson, who is an asset on both sides of the court for the 15th-ranked Bulldogs.
His shooting ability helped Gonzaga (15-3, 5-0 West Coast Conference) against Portland’s 2-3 zone on Thursday night in a 103-57 win.
He continues to draw the toughest perimeter assignment defensively. That will again be the case when Gonzaga plays at San Francisco (10-8, 2-3) on Saturday.
Melson is expected to be the primary defender against the Dons’ leading scorer, guard Souley Boum, one of the top freshmen in the conference.
Melson made five 3-pointers by the early part of the second half against Portland, enabling the Bulldogs to pull out to a 30-point lead. He finished with seven 3-pointers and received more playing time with Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. in some foul trouble.
“We were getting shots on our terms,” Milas said of Gonzaga’s execution against the zone. “Rhythm shots are one of our keys and we did that from the start.”
Melson scored a career-high 23 points while making 7 of 12 shots from 3-point range.
“We squirted him down in his interview. He was still on fire,” said Perkins, who had 13 points and seven assists. “He can shoot the ball. We see it every day in practice.”
Exhibiting Gonzaga’s balance, Melson is Gonzaga’s sixth-leading scorer averaging 10.4 points a game. He leads the team with 26 steals and has 48 assists with 22 turnovers while averaging 31.3 minutes a game.
Boum, a 6-foot-3, 145-pounder, is averaging 14.1 points a game for the Dons. Despite his wiry frame, he is very aggressive with his play. Much of his production is coming at the free throw line.
Boum, who hails from Oakland, Calif., has made 79 of 89 foul shots, and the San Francisco players with the second-most free-throw attempts are Chase Foster and Nate Renfro, with 32 apiece.
“Souley is someone we identified early in the recruiting process and felt he would be an important asset because of his natural abilities and the fact he had a strong desire to stay close to home and represent the Bay Area,” said second-year coach Kyle Smith.
Boum is in a bit of a slump, though. He had 12 points in Thursday’s loss to Loyola Marymount. In the two games before that, Boum was just 4 of 14 from the field for a combined 12 points.
He is making 44 percent of his 3-point attempts. His free throw shooting percentage of 89 percent trails only Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura (91 percent) among West Coast Conference players.
The Bulldogs will try to force Boum inside the 3-point line by extending their defense. He is making only 33 of 98 shots (33.7 percent) inside the arc.
Boum’s baseline layup Thursday with 3.3 seconds left seemed to give San Francisco the win over Loyola Marymount, but Boum was called for a foul on Jeffery McClendon’s desperation heave with 0.8 seconds left. McClendon made all three free throws to give the Lions a 67-65 win.
Foster (ankle) and Taavi Jurkatamm (concussion) were both injured in that loss for the Dons, and their status is uncertain heading into Saturday’s game.