SAN FRANCISCO – For the third straight season, Gonzaga has had to watch San Francisco fans storm the basketball court after a Dons’ victory at War Memorial Gym.
The latest rendition was perhaps the most bitter for the 24th-ranked Bulldogs, who failed to execute offensively down the stretch and paid dearly for it when Rashad Green made a 7-foot shot in the closing seconds to hand USF a 66-65 win in front of sell-out crowd of 4,500 Saturday.
“I’m very sick of it,” said senior center Robert Sacre, the only player on Gonzaga’s roster who has experienced a win at Memorial Gym. “They just get amped for us. … No question this is a tough loss. They hit a good shot, a tough, contested shot so you have to give it to them.”
Gonzaga (21-5, 11-3 WCC), in pursuit mode since losing at Saint Mary’s on Jan. 12, had a chance to join the Gaels atop the standings, but it came up with five scoreless possessions over the final 3:20 after Sacre’s jump hook put the Zags in front 65-64.
The Bulldogs’ defense gave them numerous chances, matching USF stop for stop, but they had two turnovers and missed four fairly tough field-goal attempts at the other end.
“We got enough stops to win, but we had a bunch of empty possessions,” head coach Mark Few said. “We didn’t do a good job of attacking the basket. We were going sideways a lot instead of attacking the basket in the post and with our dribble.”
Green, a senior wing who missed a 16-foot shot in the closing seconds of Thursday’s home loss to BYU, took an outlet pass with about 10 seconds left and raced past the USF’s bench where he heard coach Rex Walters shout, “Go.”
Green penetrated to the right side of the lane and hit the shot over Kevin Pangos, who was knocked to the floor trying to draw a charge. Green said he’s hit some clutch shots, but never one in the waning seconds to decide the outcome.
“Against BYU I wasn’t fortunate enough to get it to drop and it was disappointing, but I kind of willed this one in,” said Green, who finished with 16 points, five rebounds and five steals. “There was some contact but you know the refs aren’t going to call something that late in the game.”
GU had 3.3 seconds left but had to go the length of the floor. Elias Harris, who led Gonzaga with 21 points and 11 rebounds, launched an off-balance 26-footer that didn’t draw iron.
But the previous possessions were more costly. GU turned it over on Sacre’s illegal screen. Pangos missed a 3-pointer, but Harris’ rebound gave the Zags another opportunity. After a timeout, Gary Bell Jr. missed a contested jumper from the wing. After another turnover by Sacre with 1:10 left, GU got the ball back on Mike Hart’s steal but Harris misfired on a difficult 10-foot baseline shot.
“Execution,” Harris said. “We should have taken the ball to the hoop more, tried to get to the free-throw line or penetrate and pitch. We didn’t do that the last 3 minutes and it cost us the game.”
It marked the first time Gonzaga has lost three straight times on a WCC opponent’s court since San Diego (1997-99).
Gonzaga, which had 19 turnovers in a 74-63 win over USF last month, had 22 against USF’s trapping pressure in the rematch. San Francisco had a 26-11 edge in points of turnovers.
“Their defense is different and we just didn’t handle it as well as we could have,” Pangos said.
Harris (21), Bell (16) and Sacre (11) carried GU’s offense. The Zags made 51 percent of their shots and won the boards, 32-23, but they had trouble containing USF guards’ dribble-penetration and center Perris Blackwell inside. Blackwell had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Mikey Williams scored 13 and Cody Doolin chipped in eight points and six assists.
Still, it was the end-of-shot-clock situations late that doomed Gonzaga, which had rallied from a 62-57 deficit to take the lead 65-64. The Bulldogs haven’t had any down-to-wire finishes, other than a 62-58 road win over LMU and a 67-61 victory over Oral Roberts.
“We didn’t handle them very good tonight,” Few said. “We didn’t handle those at all.”