SAN DIEGO – Having been part of Gonzaga’s last two teams to run the West Coast Conference table as an assistant coach, San Diego head coach Bill Grier knew what his team was up against Saturday.
And for a while, Grier’s team performed as he’d hoped it would, matching Gonzaga’s early energy and turning the game into a grinding, possession-by-possession affair. What his Toreros couldn’t do was corral Gonzaga’s multiple offensive weapons. Nor could San Diego solve Gonzaga’s defensive pressure.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs capped a perfect WCC men’s basketball campaign with a defense-driven 58-47 victory in front of 5,100 at Jenny Craig Pavilion. Gonzaga (23-5 overall) became just the sixth team, including the Zags’ 2004 and 2006 squads, to go 14-0 since the WCC’s current eight-team alignment went into effect in 1981.
“It’s awesome to be one of the best teams in Gonzaga history,” senior forward Micah Downs said. “Only two others have done it in school history. It’s a pretty amazing feat.”
Unlike the offensive-minded 2004 and 2006 Zags, this team did it primarily with defense. Gonzaga on average held conference opponents to 36.4-percent shooting and 60.4 points. The Bulldogs limited San Diego to 47 points in both games this season and kept five other WCC opponents in the 50s.
“It’s maybe not your standard-looking (defense),” head coach Mark Few said. “It’s based on length and we’re able to do some switching because our guards are big and our bigs can move their feet a little, but it’s been pretty effective for us. We weren’t doing much on offense and our defense got us going.”
Gonzaga trailed 15-11 when Jeremy Pargo had back-to-back steals, capping one with a dunk and the other with a layin to trigger a 16-3 run to close the half. USD had one field goal in the final 10 minutes of the half.
“Pargo’s steals changed the momentum like that,” Grier said. “We had a good approach. We just had too long of a stretch without scoring.”
Gonzaga’s 58 points were its second lowest total this season, but the offense checked in at key times. Josh Heytvelt hit three shots in the first 2:45, but he spent part of the first half on the bench with two fouls. Matt Bouldin, who led GU with 15 points, seven boards and three assists, scored five straight points as GU took the lead for good, 20-15.
Pargo capped the first-half run with two buckets in the final two minutes. Downs buried consecutive 3-pointers after USD had closed within five in the second half. Austin Daye, who didn’t have a field goal until 6:45 remained, made two in a two-minute span to repel Toreros’ rallies. Bouldin’s 3-pointer with 2:40 left sealed GU’s sixth consecutive win.
San Diego shot just 37.2 percent from the field.
On offense, GU did just enough.
“We really grinded this one out,” Bouldin said. “Five other teams have gone undefeated in the WCC in something like 30 years. It’s a huge accomplishment whenever you put your name in the record book.”
San Diego (15-15, 6-8) finished in fifth place. A win would have given the Toreros the fourth seed and a first-round bye in the WCC tournament. Santa Clara claimed the fourth seed with an overtime win against Portland.
Gonzaga 58, San Diego 47
Percentages: FG .444, FT .75. 3-Point Goals: 6-11, .545 (Bouldin 2-3, Donws 2-3, Heytvelt 2-2, Gray 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Daye 3, Brown). Turnovers: 7 (Downs 2, Goodson 2, Bouldin, Pargo, Daye). Steals: 2 (Pargo 2). Technical Fouls: Daye.
Percentages: FG .372, FT .667. 3-Point Goals: 5-16, .313 (Dorr 3-5, Jackson 1-5, Brown 1-4, Ginty 0-2). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 5 (Mafra 3, Pomare, Houston). Turnovers: 10 (Pomare 2, Jones 2, Jackson 2, Mafra 2, Dorr, Brown). Steals: 5 (Houston 2, Pomare, Jackson, Ginty). Technical Fouls: Pomare.
Halftime–Gonzaga 26, San Diego 18. A–5,100.
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