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Gonzaga’s man-to-man defense delivers again in win over Pacific

There was a time in November and December when Gonzaga augmented its man-to-man defense with an occasional zone.

San Diego State managed just 48 points facing the Zags’ zone for long stretches. The zone seemed like it might become a regular part of the Zags’ defensive portfolio, providing a change-up or an option if they encountered foul trouble.

Haven’t seen the zone for a while, at least when a Gonzaga game was reasonably in doubt. Like the Zags’ eight-man rotation (when Killian Tillie is healthy), why mess with what’s working?

Gonzaga’s man-to-man defense shut down Pacific in an 82-61 victory on Saturday. The Tigers shot 33.8 percent – and needed a 7-of-14 closing stretch to dress up the final numbers.

“We’ve been playing (zone) a little bit at the end when we get a different group in, but our man has been really good,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “It’s hard to play zone. It hasn’t been quite as good, but we’re working on it in practice and it’s definitely something we need to have.”

Pacific became the 12th Gonzaga opponent in 13 games to score less than 65 points and shoot less than 40 percent. BYU rang up 49 second-half points and 75 overall, but it made just 36 percent from the field.

The other exception in that stretch: Saint Mary’s, which made some late field goals to finish at 40.7 shooting.

The Tigers aren’t an offensive juggernaut by any means, and their firepower was diminished by the loss of second-leading scorer T.J. Wallace and forward Jacob Lampkin, who scored 18 points against Gonzaga in the first meeting. Both players are sidelined with foot injuries.

Gonzaga zeroed in on Pacific’s two best scoring options – guard Ray Bowles and small forward Anthony Townes. Nigel Williams-Goss and Silas Melson had stints on Bowles. GU 7-foot-1, 300-pound center Przemek Karnowski opened up against the 6-6 Townes.

Bowles finished with 13 points but made just 5 of 15 shots. Townes, averaging 11.4 points in WCC games, didn’t score until five minutes remained in the first half. He made just one basket in the second half.

“Defense is what we hang our hat on every night,” Melson said. “Stopping their best players, and doing it with five guys.”

Three of those guys – four with Tillie – are tall, talented and anchor GU’s interior defense. Freshman Zach Collins swatted Pacific five shots, Karnowski two and Johnathan Williams one.

Gonzaga rejected nine shots, equaling its season high and two shy of the school record. The Zags blocked eight San Francisco shots in Thursday’s victory.

Few noted that Collins arrived on campus as a quality rim protector and has improved his ability to switch on screens.

“Coach is always on the bigs because we’re so athletic and long, and those are our strengths that we can use on the defensive end,” Collins said. “There a lot of quick guards in this league, that team especially, they’re really good drivers and it’s hard to keep your man in front of you. We just tried to help the guards out.”

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