SAN DIEGO – The script didn’t change much from 11 months ago.
For the second straight season, Gonzaga found itself trailing San Diego late and the home crowd in full throat at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. And once again the Bulldogs made just enough plays in closing minutes for a 65-63 men’s basketball victory over the Toreros with a hold-your-breath finish in front of 4,759.
A year ago, Gonzaga scored the last eight points and 16 of the final 21 for a 65-57 win. This time it was a 12-6 closing stretch, with half of GU’s points manufactured by David Stockton. The junior guard fed Kelly Olynyk for two easy layups and then Stockton hit a floater to give GU a 65-61 lead with 58 seconds left.
“Kelly makes it easy,” Stockton said. “We have shooters in the corners and Kelly is the best when it comes to feel for the game and he knows where to roll.”
Stockton’s floater came after San Diego called timeout and seemed to be wary of Olynyk cutting to the basket.
“I knew when they called that timeout they would be saying, ‘He’s passing,’” Stockton said. “I had the floater there and I took it.”
San Diego (11-12, 4-4), which hammered Gonzaga with 14 offensive rebounds in the second half, closed within two on Dennis Kramer’s putback. The Toreros fouled Olynyk, but the 79 percent free-throw shooter missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
San Diego’s Ken Rancifer was forced to take a contested 3-pointer and Elias Harris deflected the shot. Time expired before the Toreros could take another attempt.
“I wanted Chris (Anderson) to try to get to the rim, but when he crossed it over he bobbled the ball,” USD coach Bill Grier said. “He kind of had to pick it up and (Rancifer) was the only option he had.”
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs (21-2 overall) won their fourth straight and reached the halfway point of the WCC season in first place with an 8-0 record. There was nothing easy about win No. 8 as the Toreros brought energy and dished out some bruises.
San Diego’s 14 offensive rebounds in the second half led to 13 second-chance points. The Toreros had one second-chance point in the first 20 minutes.
“It was a battle, that’s the right word,” said Harris, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. “They gave us a hell of a time rebounding, they pushed us around. We really need to go back on Monday, go back to our box-outs and play with more heart and play more physical because that’s not acceptable.”
Gonzaga’s nine-point halftime lead melted away as the Toreros began dominating the offensive glass. Bulldogs coach Mark Few was called for a technical foul with 9:34 left and USD cashed in with a pair of free throws and Johnny Dee’s 3-pointer to take a 55-53 lead. San Diego had three shots on its next possession with Dee’s 8-footer bumping USD’s lead to 57-53.
The Zags pulled even at 59 when Gary Bell Jr. connected in the lane. Stockton fed Olynyk for easy layups on consecutive possessions as Gonzaga moved in front 63-59.
“David made a huge play on the ball screen, got in the lane and found me,” said Olynyk, who had 15 points and eight boards. “He made my job easy.”
Dee finished with 21 points – 16 in the second half – and seven rebounds, four offensive. Anderson chipped in nine points and 11 assists.
“I just felt like we fought, that’s what we didn’t do against BYU and Saint Mary’s,” said Grier, a GU assistant for 16 years before taking the San Diego job six years ago. “Those two (guards) bring energy. They bring belief.”
The Zags had plenty of belief in the final minutes.
“We settled down and played with some pretty good poise,” Few said. “We’ve done that a lot this year in the last four minutes. We got the ball where we needed to and attacked the rim.”
Bell added 13 points and four assists for GU, which made 44 percent of its shots. The Toreros made 43.3 percent from the field.