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Kyle Wiltjer catches fire for 45 points in Gonzaga victory

STOCKTON, Calif. – Kyle Wiltjer’s 22 first-half points provided Gonzaga with an early cushion. Turns out he was just getting warmed up.

Wiltjer poured in 45 points, third on school’s single-game list and the most by a Zag since Frank Burgess’ school-record 52 in 1961, to lead No. 3 Gonzaga to an 86-74 win over scrappy Pacific in front of 5,672 Thursday at Spanos Center.

“I was just shooting my open shots, trying not to force anything,” Wiltjer said. “My teammates were doing an amazing job and we were running plays to keep it going.”

It’s been pushed to the backburner with the Zags’ climb in the polls and projections of where they might be seeded in the NCAA tournament, but Gonzaga’s annual list of goals begins with winning the WCC. The Zags (27-1, 15-0) secured at least a share of the championship Thursday. They’ve won 14 of the last 15 WCC crowns. They can clinch an outright championship with a win against Saint Mary’s on Saturday.

Gonzaga’s 20th consecutive win tied the school record established in 2004 and 2006.

Fueled by Wiltjer, the Zags built an early lead that usually ranged between seven and 11 points. That margin would remain fairly constant for most of the final 35 minutes.

Wiltjer, whose previous high was 32 points against Georgia in November, hit nearly all of the key buckets as the Zags kept Pacific at arm’s length. He scored 16 of GU’s 20 points in one late stretch, often answering Pacific field goals at the other end.

“He started early and finished late,” coach Mark Few said.

Wiltjer’s stat line: 15 of 22 field goals, 7 of 10 3-pointers, 8 of 9 free throws, six rebounds and four assists.

It was GU’s first 40-point game since Adam Morrison, who watched from a seat near the bench, scored 44 against LMU on Feb. 18, 2006.

“It was like Adam,” Few said. “I’ve seen Kyle do that in practice. It’s not like it’s an out-of-body experience for him.”

Wiltjer capped his evening with a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining.

“They didn’t really seem to focus on him still, after he kept hitting them,” said point guard Kevin Pangos, who finished with eight of Gonzaga’s 20 assists. “He still had open shots, when he got in the post he took his time and executed.

“By the end, everything was going in. It was fun to watch.”

Wiltjer missed his first shot attempt 20 seconds into the game but not many after that. The 6-foot-10 junior scored 10 straight Gonzaga points as the Zags moved in front 27-17. Gonzaga took its biggest lead of the half, 30-19, after a Silas Melson 3-pointer.

“I was very disappointed in how we defended, and how we defended Wiltjer,” Pacific coach Ron Verlin said. “There was a plan to get to him and get to him quickly, and we didn’t pick him up quickly enough in transition.”

At one point, Gonzaga was 11 of 15 from the field, 6 of 6 on 3-pointers and 4 of 4 at the free-throw line.

The Zags cooled off a bit, but still shot 58 percent in the first half.

The problem was Pacific began matching GU basket for basket and pulled within 45-37 at half on Jacob Lampkin’s putback.

Last-place Pacific (10-17, 2-13) finished with 11 3-pointers and made 44 percent of its shots.

T.J. Wallace scored a team-high 19 points.

“That was probably one of the worst efforts on the defensive end this year, but they deserve a lot of credit. They stepped up and made shots,” Few said. “They were aggressors for long stretches of that game.”

Gonzaga’s typical balanced scoring took the night off with Wiltjer’s offensive eruption. Gary Bell Jr. (12 points) was the only other Zag in double figures.

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