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No. 13 Gonzaga rockets to 46-point victory in opener

Turns out it takes 20 minutes for Gonzaga to go from zero to 60.

Actually 54 of those points came in a dazzling 16-minute stretch as the Bulldogs reached 60 points by halftime and crushed Sacramento State 104-58 in the season opener for both teams Friday.

The Bulldogs’ offense was in race-car mode in front of a packed crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center, thanks to a smothering defense that forced 14 Hornets turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and fueled Gonzaga’s transition game.

It was 60-26 at half.

“The defense started it all,” said senior guard Gary Bell Jr., who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and five assists. “We can score with any team. If we focus on defense, we can play with any team.”

The competition level will go up several notches when No. 22 SMU visits Gonzaga on Monday.

The first 4 minutes against the short-handed Hornets were a tad rough. The remainder of the first half was a Gonzaga clinic. GU trailed 7-6 after 4 minutes. Four minutes later, the Zags led 25-12 following the first of Kyle Wiltjer’s three first-half 3-pointers. Freshman Domas Sabonis came off the bench and quickly supplied two field goals and a pair of free throws.

The margin swelled to 38-18 after Wiltjer’s 3-pointer and jump hook. The Zags went on a 14-2 run in the final 5 minutes, capped by freshman guard Josh Perkins’ 3 as the buzzer sounded.

“We came out and played the way we wanted to play,” coach Mark Few said. “Twenty-four assists is a great stat for us, plus 20 on the glass. I really liked how we shared the ball and how our defensive numbers shaped up.”

Wiltjer and Pangos combined for 28 first-half points on 10-of-14 shooting, most coming in rapid-fire fashion. Pangos, slowed by toe and ankle injuries last season, was back to his pre-injury form, tossing in a couple of floaters and burying two 3-pointers. Wiltjer finished with a game-high 18 points in just 20 minutes.

“We moved the ball so well,” Wiltjer said. “We have so many offensive threats. Even if you have good shooters, if you can’t move the ball you can’t get good shots. It was a great half.”

Sabonis contributed 14 points and eight rebounds. USC transfer Byron Wesley had 12 points, seven rebounds and four of the team’s 12 steals in his GU debut. Perkins added eight points and six assists.

Sabonis made 6 of 9 shots and finished with two assists, a block and a steal in 20 turnover-free minutes.

“That’s going to be my role,” Sabonis said, “to come out and give energy and do the best I can.”

Said Few: “He was thrashing around in there. We need that. He’s a legitimate tough guy; that’s kind of what we need.”

The Bulldogs, who made nearly 60 percent from the field in the first half, finished at 54.5 percent. They connected on 10 of 24 3-pointers.

Sacramento State, picked to finish in the top four in the Big Sky, committed 22 turnovers and made just 35.7 percent of its shots. All-Big Sky guard Mikh McKinney didn’t play for disciplinary reasons and three Hornets fouled out. Dylan Garrity hit two early 3s and finished with 13 points.

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