Gonzaga isn’t moping over a run of tough luck with injuries. The Bulldogs are too busy picking up floor burns, stealing passes and uncovering new scoring sources from a make-shift lineup.
The 24th-ranked Bulldogs, who learned Monday they’ll be without guard Gary Bell Jr. for 4 to 6 weeks due to a broken right hand, dominated San Francisco from tip to final buzzer in a 69-41 WCC men’s basketball victory in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Playing without Sam Dower Jr. (back injury) for the second straight game and with point guard Kevin Pangos (toe) at maybe 70 percent, the Bulldogs put five players in double figures – paced by Drew Barham’s 15 points and nine rebounds – and led by as many as 30 against a USF team that was picked fourth in the WCC preseason poll.
“As a player you wait and wait for your chance and when you get a chance you have to make the most of it,” coach Mark Few said. “By and large, everybody that got in did that.”
Gonzaga’s defense, torched for 43 second-half points in a loss to Kansas State 10 days ago, held Santa Clara 14 points below its season average Thursday. San Francisco entered averaging 81.9 points on 51-percent shooting. The Dons left with just 14 field goals, a 25.5 shooting percentage and 41 points, equaling Portland in 2007-08 for the lowest point total by a WCC opponent since the MAC opened its doors in 2004.
“We’ve started playing with way more energy, talking more and using our hands, getting in passing lanes,” said Barham, who made 5 of 10 3-pointers in his third career start. “(David) Stockton has done a great job with deflections and bothering the ball. We had a poor showing defensively against Kansas State and since then we’ve tried to amp it up.”
Gonzaga (12-2, 2-0 WCC) scored the first seven points and USF (8-6, 1-1) never mounted a serious challenge. The Bulldogs led by double digits with 9 minutes left in the first half. They were on top by 21 when Avry Holmes beat the halftime buzzer with a 28-footer.
The Bulldogs made just 38.5 percent of their first-half shots, but converted nine offensive rebounds into 10 points and converted nine USF turnovers into 15 points. Stockton had five of his seven assists and Gerard Coleman chipped in six points off the bench as GU took control 41-23.
Coleman, scoreless in the three previous games, drove for a basket to cap an 18-8 run to open the second half and extend Gonzaga’s lead to 28.
Przemek Karnowski contributed 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. Pangos finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Angel Nunez was solid for the second straight game with six points and five rebounds. Coleman added 10 points and Kyle Dranginis, making his second career start, had five rebounds, two steals and two assists.
The Zags were equally effective in man or zone defense. They tied a season high with 10 steals.
Cole Dickerson, USF’s leading scorer at 14 per game, finished with four points on 2-of-7 shooting. The senior forward, who has battled colitis most of the season, recently underwent surgery. Holmes led the Dons with 16 points.
“They were unrelenting in their toughness,” coach Rex Walters said. “We were uncomfortable all night. I think we thought it was going to be a little easier than it was. It’s never going to be easy in this game.”
Walters said he wasn’t as “concerned about the offense as much as the turnovers and the 50-50 balls; they beat us to a lot of those. They were willing to put their noses on the ball and we were on our heels all night.”