It’s not the snazziest or most original motto – taking it one game at a time – but it seems to carry meaning for the Gonzaga men’s basketball team.
The Zags have successfully handled being heavy favorites and they’ve side-stepped several trap games on their schedule, including Thursday’s versus Pacific, which received scant attention with Saturday’s showdown looming against second-place Saint Mary’s.
Gonzaga stayed on task with a businesslike 90-68 victory over the Tigers in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“If we overlooked this team and were excited for Saturday we could have taken a loss,” senior forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “I think it was a mature game for us to stick with it and obviously we have to take care of business one more time Saturday.”
The Zags (21-6, 13-2 WCC) won their seventh straight conference game. A victory over the Gaels (21-4, 12-3) would give GU at least a share of the WCC title with two games remaining.
“We’ve been talking all year, especially with this group we learned early, you just have to win the next game,” coach Mark Few said. “If there’s any deviation from that we’re not quite as good as we can be. They’ve put themselves in this position because they have done that for 15 (WCC) games.”
Wiltjer and frontcourt running mate Domantas Sabonis combined for 49 points. Wiltjer bounced back from a tough shooting night against SMU by hitting 8 of 14 field-goal attempts, 4 of 7 beyond the arc, for 26 points. He shook off a rolled ankle in the first half by scoring 19 points in 13 second-half minutes.
Sabonis finished with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He grabbed 10 rebounds for his 17th double-double.
“You can make an argument that’s the best frontcourt in the country,” said Pacific interim head coach Mike Burns, who was tossed early in the second half after picking up two technical fouls for protesting a charging call on T.J. Wallace.
Sophomore guard Silas Melson continued his late-season surge with 12 points. Josh Perkins and Eric McClellan combined for 16 points, 11 assists and three steals. McClellan had perhaps the play of the game when he drove the lane for a one-handed flush in the first half.
Gonzaga led 44-32 after a disjointed first half that included two video reviews and a lot of whistles. Five Pacific forwards/posts were called for 10 fouls, mostly trying to defend Sabonis in the paint, and the Zags cashed in by making 10 of 11 free throws.
Sabonis piled up 15 points with four close-range buckets, a trail-the-break 3-pointer and four free throws. The Zags dealt with foul trouble of their own when Wiltjer picked up his third late in the half.
“That’s a tough team,” Melson said. “We were expecting a fistfight out there.”
Burns’ technical fouls led to four Wiltjer free throws that extended Gonzaga’s lead to 52-36. Wiltjer struck eight points in the span of 56 seconds, including a pair of pretty step-back jumpers, to boost Gonzaga’s lead to 68-47.
“Obviously it was a frustrating first half,” Wiltjer said. “My teammates did a good job of keeping me positive. I got aggressive in the second half and it was really good to see it going in.”
The Zags, who shot 51 percent from the field and 47.4 percent on 3-pointers, led by as many as 28.
Pacific (7-18, 5-10) hit 46.6 percent of its shots but 13 turnovers led to 24 GU points. Alec Kobre paced the Tigers with 15 points.
“They’re a sneaky team,” Gonzaga senior guard Kyle Dranginis said. “We matched their physicality pretty well and we were able to draw some fouls. We executed well, a good night for us.”
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