STOCKTON, Calif. – Never have consecutive 30-point and 20-point wins looked, well, less like 30-point and 20-point wins.
The wake-up calls keep coming. It took Gonzaga a lot longer to answer the latest one.
The seventh-ranked Zags slogged through the first 25 minutes and found themselves down by eight. A short time later, they were walking off the court with an 81-61 victory over stubborn Pacific on Saturday in front of 2,859 at the Spanos Center.
“It felt like a tough one,” forward Johnathan Williams said.
It had a similar feel to Thursday’s 92-62 home win over Pepperdine. The Zags (14-0, 2-0 WCC) were out of sync in the first half before crushing the Waves in the closing 20 minutes.
It’s going to look great on the stat sheet and in the win-loss column, but against better opposition the sluggish starts might prove costly. Against Pepperdine and Pacific, the Zags had superior talent and time to recover.
They trailed 42-34 when the light finally came on. Josh Perkins started and finished an 11-0 run with 3-pointers. Silas Melson nailed a 3 and Nigel Williams-Goss added a putback.
Pacific regained the lead at 46-45 but the Zags had another run in them, a decisive 14-0 burst fueled by a pair of Jordan Mathews’ 3-pointers. Williams’ layup gave Gonzaga a 59-45 lead.
The Tigers (6-9, 0-2) closed within nine but Przemek Karnowski answered with a pair of baskets in the paint.
Pacific didn’t have the size to deal with Karnowski at either end of the court. The Tigers’ game plan also played into the big man’s passing hands.
“They were either going to shrink the guard from the same side or go big to big,” said Karnowski, who had a career high seven assists, five in the first half when GU was struggling to score. “That’s what I was looking for.”
If Pacific was late with double-teams, Karnowski powered against smaller defenders for layups or jump hooks. He also put foul pressure on a Tigers’ frontcourt that was missing injured forwards Tonko Vuko and Ilias Theodorou.
If the Tigers were on time with the double, Karnowski fired passes to open teammates. He also had a few hockey assists, making the pass before the pass that led to the basket.
“It’s something I probably enjoy more to pass it out and get open shots for someone else than score for myself,” Karnowski said. “I’ve learned to play against that (double-team).”
The Zags led 7-2 early but they were outplayed the rest of the half. Pacific simply outhustled the Zags at times, beating them to loose balls and on the glass.
Pacific’s 6-foot-7 forward Jacob Lampkin had 16 points in the first 16 minutes, surpassing his career high of 14. Lampkin’s back-to-back baskets put Pacific up 30-28.
Gonzaga managed one point – a Karnowski free throw – in the final 5:30 of the half. Ray Bowles’ 3-pointer bumped Pacific’s lead to 34-29 at the break.
“It’s a very physical team and we got a little impatient on the offensive end,” Few said. “They did a great job of taking it as us, exploiting some of our ball-screen coverages on switches and Lampkin really took it at us on the glass.
“They just played a lot harder than us. They were beating us to balls, out-toughing us and we weren’t playing with a lot of rhythm on the offensive end or with much pace.”
And then they started doing all of those things. Lampkin scored just two points in the second half and had one of his shots swatted by Killian Tillie. Pacific’s T.J. Wallace and Bowles, who combine to average 27.5 points, had 24 but made just 9 of 23 shots.
Gonzaga’s defense held Pacific scoreless for five minutes as the Zags went on top 45-42. The Tigers had another 4:50 drought as Gonzaga’s lead grew to 59-45.
“You have to give them credit, they answered the bell,” Tigers coach Damon Stoudamire said. “They’re the No. 7 team in the country and what they did was they wore us down.”
The defensive stops unleashed Gonzaga’s transition game. Mathews hit a 3 to give GU the lead for good. He drained another before Pacific’s defense could set up and Zach Collins followed with a layup on the break.
“I felt in the first half and a little bit in second half we were playing as individuals a little bit,” Williams said. “But once we came together, it started working in our favor.”
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