Dower leads Zags with 27 points

Gonzaga's Sam Dower, right, battles San Diego's Chris Gabriel for control of the boards in the first half. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When Sam Dower wasn’t playing much during the first couple months of the season, he didn’t waste time sulking.

Dower spent time working on his game, particularly his defense and rebounding. His attitude and patience was rewarded Saturday when he torched San Diego for a career-high 27 points in an 86-53 victory at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Dower, fresh from a 15-point effort on 6-of-7 shooting against Saint Mary’s, came off the bench to make 11 of 12 shots against the Toreros. The redshirt freshman forward added seven rebounds and a steal in just 23 minutes. Playing time hasn’t been plentiful because starting center Robert Sacre has put together a solid junior season.

“I just kept thinking that I have to get better,” Dower said. “I have to get better defensively, that was my main focus, and rebounding. Coach (Mark) Few said that’s what was going to get me minutes. He knows I can score the ball.”

Dower left the court with 4:23 remaining to chants of “Dower Power” from the Kennel Club and a standing ovation from many of the 6,000 in attendance.

“He hasn’t pouted, he’s hung with it and just like the staff was saying, early he wasn’t quite ready for something like that offensively or defensively,” Few said. “He’s gained some confidence and he’s playing really well. That’s quite the understatement.”

Gonzaga (14-8, 4-3 WCC) snapped a three-game losing streak by shooting 59 percent from the field and piling up huge advantages in points in the paint (42-12), bench points (57-9), points off turnovers (26-12) and second-chance points (17-1).

Steven Gray made four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Marquise Carter had 10 points, four assists and three steals. Elias Harris had nine points and nine rebounds and David Stockton, who started in place of Demetri Goodson in the second half, added nine points and four assists.

Dower entered with 13:43 left in the first half and GU leading 10-8. He immediately scored inside, grabbed a defensive rebound and then connected in the lane again while being fouled. He missed the free throw, but Manny Arop grabbed the rebound and Dower knocked down a 10-foot shot. After another Dower basket and Carter’s layup, Gonzaga’s lead was 20-8.

“He was amazing,” Sacre said. “I was happy for him. He challenges me in practice every day. He works so hard, it’s good to see it pay off.”

The Toreros (4-18, 0-7) stayed close for the first five minutes. They could have hung around longer if they’d made some of the close-range shots they missed in the first half, several of which left head coach Bill Grier, who assisted at Gonzaga for 16 seasons, exasperated on the sideline.

San Diego, which ranks last in the WCC in scoring and field-goal percentage, made just 17 of 48 shots (35.4 percent) and 12 of 19 free throws (63.2 percent). Devin Ginty led USD with 20 points and former Mt. Spokane High and Community Colleges of Spokane guard Matt Dorr added nine points and five boards.

Gonzaga ran off 11 unanswered points to take a commanding 59-33 lead with 12:30 remaining. Gray connected on two 3s and Dower added three free throws during the spurt.

“They showed their character and responded the way you wanted them to respond,” Few said. “Everybody was disappointed (following Thursday’s loss to Saint Mary’s). I think 90 percent of the population probably would have felt sorry for themselves. They certainly had a reason to but they didn’t. They came out and were positive, enthusiastic, played with great energy and put together a great ball game.”

The Zags are two games behind Saint Mary’s, which lost 85-70 at Portland, midway through the conference season. Gonzaga plays five of its last seven on the road, beginning Thursday in Portland.

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