Gonzaga clinches WCC with win over Pacific
STOCKTON, Calif. – There is a tradition when Gonzaga clinches a West Coast Conference regular-season or tournament championship.
It involves head coach Mark Few performing a locker-room celebration, a dance perhaps, in front of his players.
The details are sketchy, but one thing’s for sure: Few has had a lot of practice at the ritual.
The Bulldogs earned an outright regular-season title by thumping Pacific 70-53 Thursday in front of 5,454 at the Spanos Center – the largest crowd here since 2005. In Few’s 15 seasons as head coach, Gonzaga has won 13 titles, 11 solo.
Asked about the postgame celebration, Few offered a nervous laugh and said, “I always do my little deal. We don’t save it for anything. We don’t take anything for granted.”
Few praised his team for bouncing back from last week’s 0-2 conference road trip.
“It’s a special deal to be able to win one,” he said. “This is first time where it’s been 18 games. It’s longer and harder and as I’ve said all along this year, this league is better top to bottom. It’s a great testament to those guys.”
Gonzaga (24-6, 14-3) put together a complete effort, matching a 70-53 victory over Pepperdine for its most lopsided WCC road win.
Kevin Pangos had 18 points and Drew Barham made four 3-pointers and matched his career high with 17 points.
The Bulldogs, tentative in the lane in Saturday’s loss to San Diego, went hard to rim and were rewarded with field goals and 32 free-throw attempts, their most since Portland three weeks ago. Gonzaga was 1 of 14 on floaters against the Toreros.
“We knew we could do it, we just had to get the mentality,” Pangos said. “We stressed being strong on drives and not bailing out on contact.”
GU limited the Tigers to 31-percent shooting and their second-lowest point total of the season. The Bulldogs did it despite limited minutes from Sam Dower Jr. and Przemek Karnowski, both of whom were in early foul trouble. Karnowski also missed some time after spraining his right ankle in the second half.
The Bulldogs employed freshmen Luke Meikle and Ryan Edwards in the first half and used a zone defense that bothered Pacific (14-14, 5-12). The Zags finished with nine steals and forced 16 turnovers.
“We got in early foul trouble so we went to (the zone),” Barham said. “We flew around, talked and flew out on shooters and made it tough on them.”
Tied at 16 with Karnowski and Dower sitting on the bench, Gonzaga rattled off 13 unanswered points. David Stockton started the spurt by drawing a foul on penetration and hitting two free throws. Pangos’ first points of the game came via a transition layup as he was being fouled.
Pangos added two more baskets off dribble penetration. He made two free throws after a technical foul on Pacific’s Aaron Short and Gonzaga led 29-16.
GU went small, at times really small with the 6-foot-9, 203-pound Meikle at center, flanked by Kyle Dranginis, Barham, Stockton and Pangos. The Bulldogs led by as many as 15 before settling for a 40-28 halftime edge. Pangos scored all 15 of his first-half points in the final 8:29.
The Zags, stung by sluggish second-half starts last week, used a 13-3 run to open up a 53-31 lead.
“We were playing for each other and worrying less about ourselves and what was at stake,” said Stockton, who had four points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“It showed, especially in the zone. People were covering for each other, making plays.”
Karnowski had nine points and nine boards. Gary Bell Jr. added nine points and six rebounds.
Barham’s 17 led the bench’s 24-point effort. Gerard Coleman had four assists and Angel Nunez added four points. T.J. Wallace led Pacific with nine points.
“It means a lot,” Barham said of the championship. “That was one of our goals coming into the year and that’s what we’ve done.”