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No. 8 Gonzaga turns back Cal Poly

SEATTLE – There’s a good chance Gonzaga, should it go on to earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament, will be back at KeyArena for the early rounds in roughly three months. Perhaps the Zags worked out some kinks here Saturday, overcoming game-long turnovers and shaky defensive rebounding in the closing minutes for a ragged 63-50 victory over Cal Poly in front of 11,741 at the 12th annual Battle in Seattle. The eighth-ranked Zags (11-1) matched the Arizona game for their lowest scoring output of the season. They had 16 turnovers and a season-low 10 assists. They sputtered offensively against the Mustangs, who threw a variety of defenses at Gonzaga. But GU was pretty solid at the other end. “What pleased me is we won it with our half-court defense. We were really efficient with making them take tough (shots),” coach Mark Few said. “What didn’t please me was the silly, soft turnovers. We practiced against 1-3-1 (zone) all week and just torched it against the Red team when we were attacking it. “Joe (Callero, Cal Poly coach) was switching defenses every possession, sometimes in the same possession.” The Zags had their second-lowest scoring half in 12 games, but still led 28-20 after a 13-5 run in the final 7 minutes. Their season-low was 27 points in the first half against Arizona. Gonzaga had two issues early – turnovers, particularly against the 1-3-1 trap, and an inability to keep Cal Poly junior wing David Nwaba out of the lane. GU’s first three turnovers led to six Cal Poly points and a four-point deficit. The Zags temporarily solved both issues as Nwaba got into foul trouble and spent eight minutes on the bench. He was still effective, finishing the first half with 12 points, but the Mustangs struggled to score when he was out. “He’s really quick, quicker than he looks, and actually really strong,” Gonzaga wing Kyle Dranginis said. “He was making some tough finishes at the rim, and we were contesting them.” The Zags were disjointed most of the first half. They twice missed transition layups after steals and Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski, who had 11 points at the break, both misfired from close range before connecting on putbacks. Gonzaga eased in front by 12 early in the second half on a pair of Kevin Pangos’ 3-pointers but the Mustangs (5-5) responded with an 8-0 run. Pangos hit another 3 and Dranginis’ 3 bumped the lead back to 10 with 11 minutes remaining. Cal Poly closed within seven three times, the last at the 5:55 mark, but Gary Bell Jr. drove for a layup and the Zags hit their free throws to earn their fourth consecutive win. GU was 15 of 18 at the foul line in the second half, 10 of 10 in the final 6:10. “We struggled at times,” said Pangos, who finished with four 3s and 16 points, sharing team-high honors with Karnowski. “We got caught in bad spots, maybe too tentative, maybe too aggressive at bad times but we’ll learn from it. Overall we did what we had to do.” The 6-foot-4 Nwaba finished with 21 points, five rebounds and four steals, many coming at the top of the zone when he used his length to snatch errant passes. He made 10 of 16 shots, a few over the arms of defenders. The Zags will have a few days off for the holiday break but return to Spokane for practice on Christmas Eve with a WCC opener looming against BYU in Provo on Saturday. “It’s the first time I’ve done that in my career, but we have to hit the road on the 26th,” Few said. “The league kind of forced our hand on this.”