The Gonzaga Bulldogs are used to hearing their coaches on the bench call out their plays. And now, they’re used to hearing their ex-coaches on the opposing bench call out their plays.
“It was kind of frustrating, because we’d call the play and (San Diego assistant) coach (Kyle) Bankhead and (head coach Bill) Grier stand up and it’s, ‘Go here, guard this, guard that, screen here,’ ” Bulldogs senior forward Micah Downs said.
That familiarity and San Diego’s affinity for a slower tempo created a grind-it-out contest, so the Bulldogs turned to defense and rebounding to pull away for a 64-47 West Coast Conference victory Saturday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The win kept the 20th-ranked Bulldogs (16-4, 7-0) unblemished in conference at the halfway point. San Diego (12-10, 4-3) dropped its third straight.
The aforementioned familiarity works both ways.
“When you know the plays the other team runs, especially when they run a lot of the same sets and we know so much about Grier’s background, it does benefit both teams,” GU forward Josh Heytvelt said.
Grier, in his second year at USD after 16 years as a Bulldogs assistant, had to like his team’s start better than his first visit a year ago. In that one, Gonzaga led 15-0 and won 80-70. This time, San Diego led 4-0 as the Bulldogs missed their first five shots.
Gonzaga quickly recovered and San Diego’s offense went into hibernation. The Toreros went more than 7 minutes without a point and nearly 9 minutes between field goals. Gonzaga rattled off 12 unanswered points before Danny Brown made a 3-pointer.
San Diego had just six first-half field goals. Gonzaga was slowed by eight turnovers, but Downs and Jeremy Pargo each chipped in seven points as the Bulldogs led 27-18 at half. The Zags also grabbed nine offensive rebounds – they eventually won the boards 44-25 – and scored seven second-chance points.
“The biggest thing we talked about was that we cannot let them get offensive rebounds,” Grier said. “We do a good job defending until about 10 on the clock and they’d shoot it and go get it. We have to finish off the possession.”
Austin Daye, who had a team-high 17 points, scored GU’s first six points in the second half. A 7-0 spurt capped by Heytvelt’s 3-pointer hiked the Zags’ lead to 47-28 with 10:10 remaining. San Diego hit three 3-pointers in 68 seconds to close within 12, but GU responded with an 11-5 run.
The Bulldogs made 12 of 24 shots in the second half to finish the game at 42 percent. The Toreros made six second-half 3-pointers but not much else. They shot 33.3 percent.
“They play a lot like WSU where they pack it in defensively and they don’t push the ball very much,” said Downs. “In games like that, we have to take care of the boards and defend so they don’t get easy buckets.”
Gonzaga shut down San Diego’s main scoring threats. Center Gyno Pomare, defended primarily by Heytvelt, had six points, eight less than his season average, and didn’t attempt a shot in the second half. Trumaine Johnson was 3 of 9 and scored just seven points. Rob Jones, who averages 10.2 points, made his only field goal – a dunk – 6 minutes into the second half.