The University of San Diego men’s basketball team has never won a game in the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Toreros didn’t get their first Saturday night, but they also avoided the fate which has befallen most of Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference opponents this season. They kept the Zags from emptying the bench early.
The fourth-ranked Bulldogs won 85-69, but as KHQ play-by-play announcer Greg Heister said leading into to a commercial in the middle of the second half, “San Diego isn’t going away.”
Until it finally did down the stretch.
What they saw …
• If there is a Gonzaga opponent that is the exact opposite of Maui foe Duke (and its fabulous group of freshmen), it might be San Diego. The Toreros feature a senior-laden roster, including point guard Isaiah Wright and leading scorer Isaiah Pineiro.
Does that matter?
“That’s critical,” said analyst Richard Fox, again working without usual partner Dan Dickau, “particularly when you are playing up here in Spokane. You can’t let the environment overwhelm you. You can’t disappear if GU makes a run. You’ve got to keep your composure. This group should do that.”
In the first half, the Toreros did exactly what Fox said they needed to do, with only a 6-0 run to end the half unanswered.
The Zags (21-2 overall, 8-0 in West Coast Conference play) stretched the lead to 13 early in the second half, but USD (15-8, 4-4) still didn’t go away.
The Toreros rode Pineiro inside and out – the 6-foot-7 forward was 5 of 8 from beyond the arc – to claw back within six.
“The thing about Pineiro is he can (score) so many different ways,” Fox said in the second half as Pineiro was en route to a career-high-tying 30 points.
• Rui Hachimura has had more prolific offensive games, even this season, as he scored 33 points in a rout of Idaho State. But his 32-point performance against USD, in a game in which Gonzaga needed most every one of them, might have been his best.
And it could have been even more. Though Hachimura was 11 of 15 from the field, he was only 9 of 14 from the free-throw line.
He wasn’t alone. Zach Norvell Jr. was a complimentary scorer with 21, including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc. And Josh Perkins, who had 12 points, also posted six assists.
• Brandon Clarke is not only the Zags’ second-leading scorer – coming in averaging 16.6 points a game – but he also has been, at times, a good indicator of how well GU is running its offense.
When he gets shots, it means they are executing their pick-and-roll games on both sides of the court.
In the first half of this one, Clarke had just three shots and two points.
The first possession out of the locker room, Clarke came off a backside screen, caught a pass and attacked the rim. His layup gave Gonzaga a 10-point lead.
Clarke finished with 12 points – including two throw-down lob dunks – and seven rebounds.
What we saw …
• Gonzaga’s defense has been spot-on recently, a big part of why the Zags have blown out their most recent opponents. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
San Diego turned the ball over 17 times. The Toreros shot only 46 percent. But the Bulldogs were not as focused as they have been.
Don’t take our word for it.
“Weren’t as dialed in as we have been,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said during his halftime interview.
But when the game was still close midway through the second half, Gonzaga clamped down and held the Toreros without a field goal for 6 minutes in a decisive late stretch.
• It’s easy to be critical of officiating throughout a college basketball game, but there was a first-half play that showed the correct way to adjudicate the game.
With about 4 minutes before halftime, Hachimura jumped in front of a pass intended for Wright, who realized there was nothing between Hachimura and the hoop.
So Wright tried to grab Hachimura as he took off.
Randy Richardson saw it all, as it occurred just feet away. But the official also seemed to realize Hachimura was going to score. So he let the contact go – a whistle would have resulted in a 1-and-1 – and Hachimura took three dribbles and threw down a dunk.
Richardson worked with longtime Pac-12 official Chris Rastatter and veteran WNBA official Kurt Walker.
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