Kevin Pangos has been at his best against two of Gonzaga’s biggest rivals.
The freshman guard buried five 3-pointers and scored 27 points, his highest point total since torching Washington State for 33 points in an early season win, to guide Gonzaga to a 73-59 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory over No. 16 Saint Mary’s in front of a noisy sell-out crowd of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Bulldogs (19-4, 9-2 WCC) still need help to catch Saint Mary’s (22-3, 11-1), but Thursday’s decisive victory keeps their hopes alive of earning a 12th consecutive WCC title. GU entertains Loyola Marymount on Saturday while the Gaels take on Santa Clara.
Pangos was 5 of 6 from long distance – the lone miss coming with 25 seconds remaining. Pangos and fellow freshman guard Gary Bell Jr. came up with several key field goals as Gonzaga pulled away in the final 10 minutes to avenge a 21-point loss to the Gaels last month.
“I don’t know what else you can say about them,” GU coach Mark Few said. “They’re probably not freshmen anymore with as many minutes as they’re playing. The neat thing is they’re both really confident kids and have big wills and hearts. And they’re not afraid.”
Pangos suffered through a cold-shooting spell before finding his touch in Saturday’s win against Pepperdine. He regained his form the old-fashioned way: Hours inside the MAC, working on his shot.
“I’ve been getting in the gym a lot this week, putting in extra time and getting a better feel for the basketball that I didn’t have a couple weeks ago,” Pangos said. “I put the time in and I was confident.”
So was Bell, who knocked down two 3s, scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and did a solid job on defense in the second half on Saint Mary’s standout guard Matthew Dellavedova, the front-runner for WCC player of the year. Dellavedova scored 20 points, but he made just 1 of 5 second-half shots. He finished with four assists and three turnovers.
“He’s great coming off the ball screen, but we changed up our coverage a lot,” Bell said. “We trapped him, we showed hard. It kind of threw him off his game because he didn’t know what was coming every time.”
With GU leading 49-47 in a tense, back-and-forth contest, Robert Sacre hit a jump hook and Pangos followed with a high-arching bank shot over a defender. After SMC’s Rob Jones scored on a putback, Pangos drilled a 3 from the corner, then drove baseline and fed Bell, who connected on a 3-pointers just before the shot clock expired.
Gonzaga led 59-49, but Pangos wasn’t through. He hit another 3, holding his follow-through for a couple of seconds, as the Bulldogs went in front 62-51 with 6:10 left.
“We just didn’t get the job done in a couple of areas,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We did a good job of taking care of the ball and giving ourselves a chance for about 30 minutes and then Pangos hit some shots that separated the game.
“Those two things: Pangos played exceptional and they pounded us on the boards.”
Sacre had 12 points and nine rebounds. Elias Harris added 10 points and 10 boards as Gonzaga dominated the glass 40-26.
“Coach was harping on us about rebounding,” Sacre said. SMC center Brad “Waldow kicked our butts down there. We were hungry to get back at them because we didn’t show them our real game.”
Gonzaga made 53 percent of its shots and limited the Gaels to 38 percent.
Pangos and Bell began to assert themselves in the first half. The Gaels went on a 12-2 run to go in front 20-16, but the freshmen tandem scored Gonzaga’s next 12 points. Pangos hit back-to-back 3s and Bell added four points, including a runner in the lane with the shot clock nearing zero that boosted Gonzaga’s lead to 30-25.
Jones, who didn’t have a field goal until the 1:40 remained in the first meeting in Moraga, connected on a jumper after missing his first five shots, trimming GU’s lead to 34-31 at half. Jones finished with eight points, seven less than his average, on 4-of-11 shooting.