Coming off a three-game stretch against Pac-12 opponents and facing the outset of finals week, Gonzaga picked the right time for a relatively stress-free men’s basketball game.
The eighth-ranked Bulldogs tinkered with lineup combinations, avoided any kind of letdown and sent fans home with a voucher for a free taco in a 94-54 rout over Texas Southern at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday.
“We talked about having a mature approach,” coach Mark Few said. “We played great defense, especially in the first half. We shared the ball; moved it. We were really efficient on offense again and I was proud of them.
“They deserve a couple days off, so that’s what I told them.”
Gary Bell Jr. has only one final so he’ll actually have a day off. His plan? He said he’ll come to the gym and get up some shots. Przemek Karnowski welcomes the time to study, with two finals and two papers due today and on Wednesday.
“It’s kind of rough,” he said. “Just have to push through it.”
It was smooth sailing for Gonzaga on the court. The Zags (10-1) held TSU (1-8) scoreless over the final 4:30 and led 40-16 at the half.
Eleven Zags scored, none more popular than Dustin Triano’s 3-pointer with 90 seconds remaining. With 5 minutes remaining, the small student section started chanting, “We want tacos,” when the Zags had nine of the required 10 3s.
“Yeah, we were talking about it on the bench before that,” said Triano, whose basket drew one of the night’s loudest ovations. “Brian (Michaelson, GU assistant coach) was calling me ‘Taco Triano.’ ”
Angel Nunez, who didn’t play in Saturday’s win over UCLA, and Domantas Sabonis made their first career starts. Nunez had eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. Sabonis finished with 16 points and six boards.
“It’s more about rewarding some guys,” Few said. “We had a couple tight games. The bench shrunk a little in the last game. When you start them it forces you to get them in the rotation.”
Kyle Wiltjer, the WCC Player of the Week, poured in 21 points in 19 minutes. The junior forward made 9 of 11 shots. He’s averaging 22 points in his last three games and he’s hit 27 of 38 shots (71 percent).
“We talked to him about valuing his shots,” Few said. “He was quick-releasing it a little and backing up before he was finished. Now he’s hanging with his follow-through and owning it and it really shows.”
Silas Melson logged 27 minutes and finished with 13 points. Kevin Pangos hit three 3s and scored 11 points, his first game in double figures since Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 2.
The Zags made 63.6 percent from the field and 52.6 percent beyond the 3-point arc. When walk-on Rem Bakamus scored in the final minute, Eric McClellan, who becomes eligible Jan. 6, soared high off the bench to celebrate.
“We’re a really close team,” Nunez said. “Everyone likes to see everyone else succeed. If I’m doing well, the guys get excited, even the guys playing ahead of me.”
Madarious Gibbs and Deverell Biggs each had 12 points for the undersized Tigers, who play 15 of their first 16 games on the road. TSU made just 35.6 percent from the field, including 3 of 17 3-pointers. The team remained in the locker room for an hour after the game.
Gonzaga returns to practice Thursday to prepare for Saturday’s Battle in Seattle against Cal Poly, which knocked off San Francisco on Monday.
Percentages: FG .356, FT .529. 3-Point Goals: 3-17, .176 (Biggs 2-2, Gibbs 1-4, Thomas 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Blanks 0-2, Carter 0-7). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 1 (Thomas). Turnovers: 11 (Biggs 4, Gibbs 3, Thomas, Carter, Shepherd, Johnson). Steals: 3 (Carter, Blanks, Thomas). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .636, FT .778. 3-Point Goals: 10-19, .526 (Wiltjer 3-3, Pangos 3-5, Bell Jr. 2-3, Triano 1-1, Melson 1-3, Nunez 0-2, Dranginis 0-2). Team Rebounds: 8. Blocked Shots: 4 (Karnowski 2, Griffin, Wiltjer). Turnovers: 7 (Sabonis 2, Dranginis, Griffin, Melson, Wiltjer, Karnowski). Steals: 7 (Wesley 2, Pangos 2, Melson 2, Sabonis). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Gonzaga 40-16. A—6,000.