SAN FRANCISCO – The Gonzaga Bulldogs didn’t bring their ‘A’ game to the Bay Area but they made sure to pack their ‘D’ – and their grit.
Gonzaga shut down San Francisco’s inside tandem of Cole Dickerson and Kruize Pinkins and the Dons’ potent offense for the second time this season, triggering a 75-65 victory in front of 4,200 Saturday at War Memorial Gym.
The victory, coupled with Wednesday’s 54-52 win at Santa Clara, gives Gonzaga (20-3, 10-1) a commanding lead in the WCC standings. San Francisco slipped to (14-9, 7-4), tied for second with BYU (15-9, 7-4). The Cougars handled Saint Mary’s 84-71, dropping the Gaels to 16-7, 6-4.
Gonzaga made just 39 percent of its shots but used a variety of defenses to limit USF to 34.5 percent. The Dons’ 65 points was their fourth lowest point total of the season. They scored a season-low 41 in Spokane.
“It was a great trip in that we didn’t play particularly well on offense – for stretches we did tonight – but we played really tough, hard-nosed defense,” coach Mark Few said. “We won both games on the defensive end and that’s a good thing for us. These guys will solve the offense.
“We were switching coverages all night, almost every possession and their attentiveness to it was the key. Both in the post and on ball screens we were switching almost every time. That takes concentration and communication.”
The Bulldogs also kept the training staff busy. Guard Kevin Pangos twisted his left ankle in the first minute. Pangos, who re-aggravated his turf toe injury in practice Friday, still played 31 minutes, scoring nine points.
Center Przemek Karnowski suffered a cut under his right eye from an inadvertent elbow by teammate Kyle Dranginis as both pursued a rebound. Karnowski was forced to leave the court a couple of times to stop the bleeding, but returned to deliver 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
“You just have to play through it,” shrugged Karnowski, who added that the cut will require stitches.
The 6-foot-5 Dranginis had a career-high 12 rebounds. One came in the midst of a decisive 16-5 run that extended Gonzaga’s lead to 54-40. Gary Bell Jr. started it with a three-point play and Angel Nunez had a block and scored his only two points of the game.
Sam Dower Jr. took over from there, scoring the next nine points, the last three on a low-block move, made possible by Dranginis’ offensive board. A pair of Pangos free throws capped the surge.
“We brought a lot of toughness,” Dranginis said. “We weren’t making the shots we usually make, but we manned up on the defensive end and got stops when we needed them.”
Dickerson and Pinkins, who together average 27.5 points and 14.1 rebounds, were limited 12 points and seven boards. Both fouled out. The two combined for just seven points in the first meeting.
“We were ready with a couple different coverages,” Karnowski said. “We got the win so it worked out pretty good.”
The Dons didn’t go away. They trimmed GU’s lead to 63-57 and were down by seven when Matt Glover’s 3-pointer rattled in-and-out with 1:39 remaining. The Bulldogs made 11 of 12 free throws in the last 91 seconds to close out their sixth straight win.
Gonzaga was 34 of 41 (83 percent) at the free-throw line. Dower, who led GU with 24 points, made 12 of 13 free throws. Bell finished with 13 points, nine in the second half. David Stockton hit six late free throws and finished with eight points and five steals.
Avry Holmes made four 3s and led USF with 18 points. Mark Tollefsen contributed 15 points.
Gonzaga led by as many as nine in the first half as Dower and Karnowski combined for 18 points. The Dons pulled within 32-28 at the break on Holmes’ trey – USF’s fifth of the half – with 2 seconds left.