When Gonzaga’s run of consecutive WCC men’s basketball titles ended at 11 last season, players took some good-natured ribbing from past Zags who helped build the lengthy streak.
“A couple of them did,” sophomore guard Kevin Pangos said. “That actually kind of got to me a little bit because I want to be up there with those great Zag players and great Zag teams.”
The current Bulldogs made their own statement, drubbing San Diego 81-50 in front of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center and clinching at least a share of the conference title and the top seed in the WCC tournament in Las Vegas.
Third-ranked Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0 WCC) can claim an outright title with one win (at BYU on Thursday, or home vs. Portland on Saturday) in one of its last two regular-season games, or a Saint Mary’s loss.
“These guys worked so hard all summer. They deserve it and it’s good to get it back where it belongs,” junior guard David Stockton said. “We had (ex-Zag Adam) Morrison coming down and playing in the summer and you can imagine what he’s saying to us.”
This one followed a familiar blueprint: another splendid first half, efficient offense and stingy defense that takes away the opponent’s top scoring option. The Bulldogs led San Diego 37-23 at half – and that’s the second-closest margin against a visiting WCC foe this season. Loyola Marymount was within 36-25 at the break. The deficit for every other opponent has been between 14 and 29 points.
“It’s guys being ready to go and really taking the game plan to heart and executing it on defense and offense,” coach Mark Few said.
San Diego (13-16, 6-8) made just 35.7 percent of its shots, including 2 of 14 on 3-pointers. Eight of Gonzaga’s last nine opponents have failed to reach 40 percent.
USD guard Johnny Dee attempted only six shots and scored four points, 11 below his average. Guard Chris Anderson, who combined with Dee for 30 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in GU’s 65-63 win earlier this month, finished with eight points and four assists.
“We just don’t do a good enough job of screening for (Dee),” San Diego coach Bill Grier said. “But at his size against a guy like Gary (Bell Jr.), he doesn’t have a lot of time to get a shot off. Because we were better defensively at our place, it allowed us to get out and get him some shots in transition. We were taking it out of the net all day.”
The Zags have shut down visiting standouts like BYU’s Tyler Haws (one point), San Francisco’s Cody Doolin (seven points) and Cole Dickerson (zero points) and Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster (four points).
“We’ve done a nice job on these top scorers that have come in here,” Few said. “Even (Saint Mary’s Matthew) Dellavedova, we did a nice job keeping him out of his comfort zone.”
Gonzaga’s two wins this week were by a combined 74 points over San Diego and Santa Clara, teams in the middle of the WCC standings. The Bulldogs shot in the mid-50 percent range in both games. They were in the 60s most of the way against the Toreros before finishing at 54.5.
Pangos made three 3-pointers and scored 18 points. Kelly Olynyk didn’t miss a shot – 5 of 5 field goals and 3 of 3 free throws – en route to 14 points in 20 minutes. Elias Harris chipped in 12 points. The bench added 35 points, led by Drew Barham’s and Sam Dower’s nine points apiece, Przemek Karnowski’s eight and Stockton’s six points and three assists.
“A lot of pieces are coming together right now,” Olynyk said. “The defense is really starting to hit its stride and our offense has always been there but we’re staying efficient and playing through some stuff, and the bench is really contributing. The whole system is molding into a perfect picture.”