Gonzaga opens tournament with easy win over Washington

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer fights for a rebound against Washington's Devenir Duruisseau in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. (Logan Reidsma / Special to The Spokesman-Review)

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – The Gonzaga-Washington rivalry picked up just about where it left off.

Gonzaga, which won eight of the last nine – seven by double digits – before the series took a nine-year hiatus, thumped the Huskies 80-64 Wednesday inside cozy Imperial Arena in the quarterfinal round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

“It wasn’t a pretty game but I liked how tough we played,” coach Mark Few said. “We played very well on the defensive end, especially on the first shot, and we were able to hold our own on the glass. Washington is a phenomenal offensive rebounding team.”

The 10th-ranked Zags (3-0) will face Texas A&M at 10 a.m. PST Thursday. The Aggies defeated Texas 84-73 on Wednesday.

Whistles and free throws were non-stop in the first half, but even during the foul parade the Zags were able to check off their primary keys: Take care of the ball against UW’s pressure defense, feed their big men and limit the Huskies’ damage on the offensive glass.

Gonzaga led by 10 after center Przemek Karnowski scored on the low block over Noah Dickerson just 7 minutes into the game. GU bullied the athletic but shorter and thinner Huskies as Kyle Wiltjer (24 points, 11 rebounds), Domantas Sabonis (17 points and nine rebounds) and Karnowski (12 points, six rebounds) dominated in the lane.

At the defensive end, Gonzaga’s size bothered the Huskies, who struggled to finish drives into the paint or after grabbing one of their 22 offensive rebounds.

Wiltjer drew several fouls against UW’s bouncy forwards with pump fakes. Three Huskies fouled out, including freshman forward Marquese Chriss, who played just 14 minutes.

“Watching film, they left their feet a lot,” Wiltjer said. “I wanted to be aggressive but smart because they are shot blockers. It was effective on all levels.”

The Zags threw over the top, often post to post, when UW opted to front defensively.

“They do a good job of spreading you out and putting you in a position where you’re vulnerable,” said Lorenzo Romar, who is 1-5 against the Zags in 14 years as Washington’s coach. “They all have size so they have the ability to throw over the top if you front. If you play behind, they are strong enough, and crafty enough in Kyle’s case that they can still get to the rim.

“Sabonis is a bull down there. I don’t think we’ll play any team on our schedule that will have three potential NBA players that are all upperclassmen.”

Gonzaga led by as many as 19 in a foul plagued first half. The teams combined for 35 fouls and 45 free throws, with the Zags hitting 18 of 29 at the line as GU led 44-27 at the break.

The Zags stretched their lead to 59-35 when Sabonis dunked on the break with 12:25 left, but they were somewhat sloppy the rest of the way. GU committed 11 of its 17 turnovers in the second half and Washington (3-1) continued to pound the offensive glass, but the Zags lead never slipped below 11 points.

Dejounte Murray, one of four freshmen in UW’s starting lineup, and senior guard Andrew Andrews each scored 21 points but they were a combined 11 of 36 from the field. Washington made just 25.7 percent of its shots, 4 of 20 behind the 3-point arc.

GU connected on 50 percent of its field-goal attempts and finished 30 of 44 at the foul line.

“Washington was very long and athletic,” Wiltjer said. “Coach was saying in the huddles that we have to do a better job of knowing that if a game gets like that we don’t have to run a play every time. Sometimes we weren’t even running plays that we practice. Sometimes you have to punch a gap.”