Fast start cushions Zags’ ragged finish
The Gonzaga Bulldogs haven’t had any problems getting out of the starting blocks in three WCC home basketball games.
They’ve outscored opponents by a combined 59 points in the first halves with a smothering defense and shooting percentages well into the 50s. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs provided their latest example Saturday, building a 22-point halftime lead before throttling back for a 66-52 victory over San Francisco viewed by 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga’s second halves haven’t been as smooth but its first-half cushions held up for comfortable victories against USF and BYU. Saint Mary’s pulled within one point before the Zags posted an 83-78 win.
“For 30 minutes, I thought we played really good basketball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We did a good job on the defensive end again, took great care of the ball and for the most part we were pretty efficient on offense, especially in the first half and parts of the second half.”
And those other 10 minutes?
“I didn’t like the way we finished that game,” he said. “We let it slip, especially with that last group we had in there. I think we were a little careless. You can’t feel good about the lead going from 20 to 14. Those guys need to understand when they get in there that’s their time to keep the pedal down.”
GU’s lead never slipped below 15 and USF scored the last nine points in the final 1:45.
Much as it did against BYU’s guard-forward tandem of Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies, Gonzaga shut down San Francisco’s Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson. Doolin finished with seven points, five below his average, and three assists, three below his typical production. Dickerson, who averages 14.9 points, picked up two early fouls and never got untracked. He fouled out in 16 minutes without scoring a point.
“We know we have talent on the offensive end, but if we don’t bring it on defense getting that win is going to be a lot more difficult,” said guard Kevin Pangos, who finished with 11 points, joining Kelly Olynyk (13) and Elias Harris (12) in double figures. “We were really good with our ball-screen defense in the first half. Credit the bigs, they were moving their feet and making it easier for the guards to get through screens and recover.
“A lot of bigs don’t like to run that much, almost to halfcourt and then back to the block, but they’re doing a great job of showing hard.”
Gonzaga (19-2, 6-0 WCC) closed the first half with a 22-2 run to take a 43-21 lead. Olynyk started it with a three-point play and Drew Barham’s 3-pointer gave the Zags a 10-point lead. Gary Bell Jr. and Harris added 3s and Pangos’ layup after a USF turnover capped the spurt.
That prompted a USF timeout and frustrated coach Rex Walters slammed his clipboard to the floor. His team responded with a more competitive second half, making 45 percent from the field and five 3-pointers.
Walters said the current edition is Gonzaga’s best in his five seasons with the Dons.
“Because they have a lottery pick in Olynyk, and he didn’t play great tonight,” Walters said. “Harris is a high-level pro, Pangos is a high-level pro, but it’s really simple when you have a lottery pick you become a lot better team. And that’s what he is, I really believe that. First time I’ve said that about a West Coast Conference player.
“And they’ve got guys … I give Michael Hart a hard time about how we guard him. I love him. He’s the toughest kid they have on their team. They have great role players. They’ve owned their roles.”
Gonzaga made 58 percent from the floor in the first half before cooling off to 29.6 in the second.
USF fell to 9-12, 2-6.