Gonzaga snapped out of a first-half funk -- thanks in part to Eric McClellan's energy boost in the closing minutes -- and pulled away from San Diego in the closing 20 minutes for a 59-39 win Thursday.
My unedited game story is below. Day-after post in the a.m.
By Jim Meehan
Gonzaga didn’t make many perimeter shots. San Diego didn’t make many perimeter shots.
What the Zags did do was defend, get their transition game going and pound away inside, which was more than enough to claim a 59-39 victory over the Toreros in front of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The third-ranked Zags (29-1, 17-0), who have won 22 straight, can secure their second unbeaten conference season in three years with a win over BYU on Saturday on Senior Night.
San Diego (14-15, 7-10) worked the shot clock and controlled the tempo for the first 18 minutes. The Toreros led 17-13 before Eric McClellan gave the Zags a much-needed jolt. The reserve guard zipped a pass to Kyle Wiltjer for a three-point play – GU’s first transition basket of the game – and then fed Domantas Sabonis for a layup in the closing seconds.
That capped a 9-0 spurt over the final 2:05 that gave Gonzaga a 22-17 lead at the break.
“To me, he was the player of the game,” wing Byron Wesley said. “The way he came in during that 2-minute span, he was aggressive on defense, got the ball in transition and he made some high-level passes. That got us going into the second half.”
McClellan finished with one point and three assists in 10 minutes.
“There were a lot of stale faces, emotionless,” McClellan said. “That’s not how we play. It’s a lot of a laid-back guys in this group. That’s understandable, but when these guys are turned up, moving the ball, having fun and communicating, we’re a different team.”
The Zags followed their sluggish first half with a strong second half. They made twice as many field goals (16 vs. 8) and shot 61.5 percent in outscoring the Toreros 37-22.
San Diego trailed 40-35 with 7 minutes left when Gonzaga broke away with a 10-1 run. Wesley started it with a layup, Przemek Karnowski had a three-point play and Bell nailed a 3-pointer and scored on a nice drive to the basket.
“Our guys fought back in the second half and we got it to five, and we took what weren’t horrible shots but they were kind of quick,” Toreros coach Bill Grier said. “And they turned them into instant offense and it went from five to 10 in a hurry.”
Gonzaga was just 3 of 12 on 3s – one a Kevin Pangos' trey in the first 18 seconds and the last a Bell trey with 15 seconds remaining – but the Zags piled up a 38-14 edge in point paints. Karnowski (14 points), Wesley (12) and Sabonis (11) did nearly all of their damage in the lane. Karnowski, Wesley and Bell combined for 31 second-half points.
“I probably tried to force too many shots (in the first half),” said Karnowski, who made 6 of 12 field-goal attempts. “In the second half I tried to establish myself underneath and just go to my moves strong and I felt that worked in the first 5, 6 minutes.”
The Zags, who struggled defensively last week against Pacific and for a half versus Saint Mary’s, limited San Diego to 29.6 percent shooting. The Toreros made just 1 of 11 on 3s. Bell, who finished with 13 points, held senior guard Johnny Dee to six points, 12 below his average, on 2-of-10 shooting.
Gonzaga held an opponent under 40 points for the 10th time in its Division I history.
“All in all, defense was really what kept us in the game and allowed us to win,” Wesley said. “We know our offense is going to be fine.”