SAN DIEGO – At the end of a long, strange journey – no, not the season, just Gonzaga’s road-heavy last month – the Bulldogs were finally able to take inventory of what they’d accomplished.
Gonzaga avoided a potential let down and overcame San Diego’s deliberate pace to register a 68-50 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory Saturday in front of 4,158 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The victory punctuated a grinding eight-game stretch that began with a win over Davidson in Seattle and ended with essentially four road games. The 17th-ranked Bulldogs won seven of the eight, only two of which were played in Spokane.
“Coach (Mark) Few just stressed that we’ve had such a great stretch, don’t let this opportunity pass you up,” junior guard Steven Gray said. “He said we were 40 minutes from completing one of the greatest strings we’ve had here. We looked at it that it was just 40 minutes, then it’s over and we can get back home and we get to play a few home games.”
The Bulldogs (14-3, 3-0 WCC) share first place with surprising Pepperdine (7-12, 3-0), which visits the McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday, followed by Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
Gonzaga won its sixth straight game after its blowout loss to Duke in New York. Freshman forward Elias Harris, who took a hard fall late in the second half but returned two minutes later, had 20 points and nine rebounds. Gray added 17 points and Demetri Goodson delivered 12 points and a career-high tying five assists. Robert Sacre scored just six points, but he contributed 10 boards, four blocks and three assists.
Goodson was in the middle of GU’s two decisive runs. The Bulldogs gave up seven offensive rebounds, including a pair that led to De’Jon Jackson’s driving layup as USD led 18-15. But Harris’ post-up basket and Goodson’s 3-pointer started a 13-0 run and San Diego went scoreless for six minutes before Robert Mafra made a putback.
Gonzaga led by nine at half and stretched it to 15 early in the second half as Goodson twice caught San Diego’s transition defense napping. On one, he took an inbounds pass, raced the length of the floor and found Gray for an open 3-pointer from the left wing.
“They were walking with their backs turned,” Goodson said, “so I just pushed it and kicked it to Steven.”
That combination worked again one minute later as Gray drained another 3, giving GU a 41-26 lead.
“Those are backbreakers,” said coach Bill Grier, whose team dropped to 8-12, 1-3.
The Toreros twice narrowed the gap to seven, but they made just two field goals in the final 11 minutes. In particular, Bulldogs guards limited counterparts Jackson and Brandon Johnson. The two combined for 27 points, but made just 9 of 29 shots.
“They’re hard because they use a lot of dribbles to initiate contact, so it’s kind of hard to guard those guys for 20 seconds,” Few said. “For the most part, I thought we did a pretty decent job.”
Gonzaga was comfortably in front 58-44 with 5:44 remaining when Harris landed hard on his lower back while pursuing an offensive rebound. He limped off the court under his own power and checked back in two minutes later. He scored on Gonzaga’s next two possessions.
“It was hurting so bad it was unbelievable, but now I’m good,” he said. “It hurts when I stand, but I think I just bruised it.”
Said Gray: “Everyone was like, ‘Oh no,’ but he said he should be fine. He’s been phenomenal. He’s going to pose big problems for the rest of the league and it was nice to see him go back in and continue to go to work in the paint.”
San Diego scored 14 points on 13 offensive rebounds, but it had no luck from the perimeter. Community Colleges of Spokane product Matt Dorr made the Toreros’ only 3 as USD went 1 of 15 beyond the arc. Johnson and Jackson each were 0 of 4.
“We tried to make things tough for them,” Gray said. “I just tried to stay on their hip pocket, stay down and make them finish plays. That way at least they were earning things and not getting free buckets.”
Gonzaga’s offense was efficient, outside of a couple of brief turnover-prone stretches. The Bulldogs made 53.2 percent from the floor – their sixth consecutive game of hitting at least 49 percent. Harris and Gray were a combined 15 of 25.