Fast start helps Gonzaga past USD

Back with the expanded game story from Gonzaga's 82-65 victory over San Diego on Saturday. Read on for the unedited version and check back tomorrow for a day-after post.

By Jim Meehan; (208) 765-7131

Gonzaga found itself in something of an unfamiliar position Saturday – leading big early on.

The Bulldogs’ season has been filled with far more close games than blowouts. So when Gonzaga scored the first 19 points and led by 24 midway through the first half, it looked like the Zags might be able to coast to the finish line.

San Diego had other ideas, closing the deficit to 10 in the first half and keeping things interesting in the second before the 16th-ranked Bulldogs finished off an 82-65 West Coast Conference victory in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“We started looking at the score and getting a little relaxed,” junior guard Steven Gray said. “It took them making a little run to wake us up again. We’re not going to be able to turn it on like that. That’s what hurt us in that stretch (in January) when we weren’t playing so well. If a game starts like that we have to continue to play well and not let it slip.”

Gonzaga (21-4, 9-1 WCC) holds a two-game lead in the loss column over Saint Mary’s (21-5, 8-3) and Portland (16-8, 7-3). The Pilots knocked off the Gaels in overtime.

“We just have to take care of business,” senior guard Matt Bouldin said. “One game at a time, I know that’s a cliché, but we have to do that.”

The Bulldogs took off at the start against the Toreros (9-18, 2-9). Gray had three 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes as Gonzaga led 15-0. Buckets by Bouldin and Elias Harris made it 19-0 with 14:30 left.

“It felt like we were down 100-zip to start out,” said San Diego coach Bill Grier, whose team trailed 15-0 two years ago in his first trip back to Spokane after 16 years as a Bulldogs assistant. “We’ve gotten to the point where I’m trying to get some of these freshmen better and prepared for next year and Patrick (McCollum) and Ken (Rancifer) both played pretty well against Portland. But you start three freshmen in this building – I talked to them a lot about it – but they got rattled by the crowd and they also got rattled by their pressure.”

McCollum put San Diego on the scoreboard when his shot was goal-tended by Will Foster with 14:10 left, but the Bulldogs, feasting off Toreros’ turnovers, extended their lead to 29-5 on Bouldin’s layup.

From there, though, San Diego starting taking better care of the ball and Roberto Mafra’s three-point play narrowed the gap to 35-25. Gonzaga scored 12 of the last 18 points to lead 47-31 at the break.

The Toreros trailed 55-43 after Rancifer’s three-point play, but Gonzaga scored the next 13 points to take command. Freshman wing Manny Arop chipped in four of his season-high 13 points in the run.

“He’s had a good little stretch,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Arop. “He’s been really active, he’s rebounding the ball extremely well and he’s starting to figure out offensively where he can find his plays and gaps.”

Gray, snapping out of a four-game shooting slump, made 5 of 7 shots en route to a team-high 19 points. Bouldin scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half. In addition to Arop’s 13, Robert Sacre had 11 points, giving Gonzaga four double-figures scorers for the first time in 10 games.

“I just keep taking the shots I’ve been taking all year,” Gray said. “Eventually they’re going to start falling.”

Gonzaga made 74 percent of its first-half shots and finished at 56.3 percent. San Diego shot 41.1 percent from the floor.

“They weren’t maybe playing as well as they’re capable of, but they’ve gotten back to guarding and playing how they’re capable of playing,” Grier said. “Obviously they did that to Portland (last week) and Saint Mary’s (Thursday) in the second half. They’re tough to score on.”

Brandon Johnson, who sat out Thursday’s loss to Portland with a groin injury, came off the bench to score 21 points. He also had eight boards, three assists and three steals. The only other Torero in double digits was Rancifer, who had a season-high 13.



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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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