Przemek Karnowski 17 points, six rebounds.
Kyle Wiltjer 15 points, three 3-pointers, seven boards.
Domas Sabonis 13 points, 11 rebounds.
Gonzaga followed a familiar pattern: working inside-out, utilizing its depth and clamping down defensively in an 82-64 nonconference victory over Memphis viewed by 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The third-ranked Bulldogs (22-1), winners of 15 straight, got help elsewhere with No. 2 Virginia falling at home to Duke. In the West Coast Conference race, Saint Mary’s lost to visiting Pepperdine and dropped two games behind Gonzaga in the loss column.
Gonzaga’s trio of bigs were too much inside for the Tigers, combining for 45 points on 16-of-26 shooting and grabbing 24 rebounds.
“Early on we did a good job of moving it and getting it to the right spots,” coach Mark Few said.
“Shem’s a load down there. If he can do it against Shaq (Goodwin) and (Austin) Nichols, he can pretty much do it against anybody. I thought Domas really adjusted as the game went on and Wiltjer banging in those 3s always helps.”
Gonzaga’s guards did their part, too. Kevin Pangos had 11 points and five assists. Gary Bell Jr. chipped in 10 points, five boards and three steals. Sabonis led the bench contribution, which was aided by Kyle Dranginis’ eight points and a 3-pointer by Eric McClellan to stall a Memphis comeback in the second half.
The Zags put up numbers fairly consistent with their season averages – 82 points on 55 percent shooting – against a Tigers’ defense that typically yields 61.5 points on 39 percent shooting.
“It’s really tough, the way their guards give them the ball in certain positions,” said Nichols, who rebounded from a slow start to finish with 12 points. “Wiltjer can step out and hit a 3-ball and Sabonis is just so skilled. And big Karnowski, you can’t do much with him. He’s a huge factor in there.”
Memphis (13-8) made just 35 percent from the field, 25 percent on 3-pointers. GU’s last five opponents have failed to shoot above 36 percent. The Tigers did most of their damage with 19 offensive rebounds they converted into 17 points and by forcing 14 turnovers – many when Gonzaga got sloppy in the closing minutes – that led to 14 points.
“We just pretty much stayed in the gaps,” Bell said. “We knew they had one guy (Avery Woodson) that could really shoot and we just made sure he didn’t get many open looks.”
Asked to identify an area where the Zags have improved, Bell said, “We’re playing well defensively.”
Memphis coach Josh Pastner said his team kept battling and adhered to most of the scouting report defensively.
“You have to give them credit,” Pastner said. “They had three guys hit 3s that we played off of: McClellan, Dranginis and (Byron) Wesley. Karnowski hit free throws (9 of 12) and we said if he had anything go ahead and foul him. And Wiltjer was a big key in the game.”
Gonzaga never trailed. Seven Zags scored by the middle of the first half. The cold-shooting Tigers stayed close, mainly on the strength of nine offensive boards, but Gonzaga used a 15-3 run late to take a 43-25 halftime lead.
Bell started the spurt with a pair of free throws, Pangos and Sabonis each added four points and Dranginis nailed a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left.
GU led 63-39 after consecutive buckets by Sabonis. The Zags didn’t put a pretty bow on this one, turning it over against Memphis’ full-court pressure and allowing the Tigers within 13 before Pangos hit a pair of free throws with 1:41 remaining.
“Those guys are really athletic, fly around and they’re kind of relentless, which you saw on the boards,” Dranginis said. “But for the most part we handled that pretty well. It was a good test.”
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