Fire the script writer?
If you’re a Gonzaga backer or a big Dan Fitzgerald fan, maybe. But you won’t find University of San Diego coach Brad Holland demanding any rewrites of Saturday night’s 76-69 win over the Bulldogs.
This was not, after all, a fairy tale. It was a college basketball game, where the best team - not the legendary coach making his final homecourt appearance - usually wins.
And that’s exactly how the storyline played out as Holland’s Toreros dropped a sobering curtain on Fitzgerald’s coaching finale and a muzzle on a sellout crowd of 4,015 at Martin Centre.
“It was a game we could never get a handle on,” said the Bulldogs’ veteran coach, who is retiring at season’s end. “I really thought they were a superior team to us. I felt we had to play really well to win, and we played about B-minus.”
The home loss was only the second in 12 games for GU (15-9 overall, 8-4 West Coast Conference), and the first against a league foe. But it cost the Bulldogs sole possession of the WCC lead and dropped them into a first-place tie with Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara.
The WCC road win was only the second for San Diego (13-10, 6-6), which picked up its first Thursday with a 76-69 win at Portland.
“I’m elated with our road trip,” said Holland, after watching his Toreros negate the emotions of GU’s Senior Night and Fitzgerald’s farewell with tenacious defense and the deadly outside shooting of Sean Flannery. “We hadn’t won a conference game on the road and came to arguably the toughest two games we had to play - Portland and Gonzaga - and got it done.”
Flannery hit GU’s soft perimeter defense up for a game-high 20 points and became USD’s career leader in 3-point baskets (179) by draining four of the five he tried. Reserve Brian Miles added 19 as the Toreros, a preseason WCC favorite, used 56.5-percent shooting (26 of 46) and a 14-3 run early in the second half to gain control.
The Bulldogs got 16 points each from Lorenzo Rollins and Matt Santangelo, along with 15 from Bakari Hendrix, but couldn’t overcome their own shooting woes - which were directly attributable to San Diego’s defensive intensity.
The Toreros went man-to-man throughout the first half and then seemed to confuse GU with their switch to a matchup zone after intermission. As a result, the Bulldogs shot only 25 of 62 and were never able to seriously cut into San Diego’s second-half lead until the final 30 seconds, when Santangelo hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 73-69 with 15 seconds left.
Any further GU comeback hopes were dashed when Rollins was whistled for a technical foul for calling a timeout the Bulldogs didn’t have following Santangelo’s final 3-pointer.
Fitzgerald didn’t like the way his team attacked USD’s zone, and put most of the blame on Santangelo.
“To be honest with you, our point guard has had three very poor games,” he said. “He wasn’t too good Thursday night (in a 53-30 win over San Francisco) … and he wasn’t good tonight. His stats may be a little bit misleading, because he hit a couple of desperation jumpers at the end.”
Santangelo actually got the Bulldogs in position for some decent looks at the basket, but couldn’t find anyone with a hot hand. In addition, the normally friendly Martin Centre rims produced some cruel bounces and tantalizing rolls.
Surprisingly, none of GU’s players felt that the pressure of trying to send Fitzgerald out as a winner played a role in the outcome.
“I don’t think that got to us at all,” Rollins said. “San Diego just played a helluva game tonight. We did everything we could and played with a lot of heart. They just played a little better.”
Now the Bulldogs take their act on the road, where they have not been very successful. They play at Saint Mary’s on Friday night and close the regular season at Santa Clara on Saturday.
“You’re gonna have losses like that during the season,” Hendrix said. “Teams are going to come out and have big nights against you, but the bottom line is we’re still in first place and playing for a championship.
“We’re going on this last road trip with our heads up high and our chests sticking out, and we’re going to go ahead and win this thing.”
San Diego 76, Gonzaga 69
San Diego (14-10) - Jacobsen 4-9 2-3 10, Smith 0-1 2-2 2, Bruso 5-5 1-1 11, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Flannery 7-13 2-4 20, Davis 2-3 1-3 6, Obasohan 3-4 0-0 8, Knoll 0-1 0-0 0, Miles 5-10 8-10 19. Totals 26-46 16-23 76.
Gonzaga (15-9) - Williams 1-2 0-0 2, Nemeth 0-0 0-1 0, Hendrix 4-12 7-10 15, Rollins 7-15 0-0 16, Dench 2-4 2-26, Santangelo 6-15 1-2 16, Leasure 0-3 2-5 2, Eaton 3-8 1-3 7, Griffin 0-1 0-0 0, Frahm 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 25-62 13-23 69.
3-Point goals-San Diego 8-13 (Smith 0-1, Flannery 4-5, Davis 1-2, Obasohan 2-2, Miles 1-3), Gonzaga 6-17 (Williams 0-1, Rollins 2-4, Santangelo 3-9, Leasure 0-2, Frahm 1-1). Fouled out-Hendrix. Rebounds-San Diego 34 (Bruso 6), Gonzaga 33 (Rollins 9). Assists-San Diego 12 (Jacobsen, Smith 3), Gonzaga 14 (Santangelo 4). Total fouls-San Diego 18, Gonzaga 19. Technicals-Gonzaga team. A-4,015.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo