STOCKTON, Calif. – Style points? Not many. Points for bouncing back, making winning plays and delivering a finishing punch? Plenty.
Bruises? Lots of those, too.
Gonzaga dominated a 10-minute segment of the second half, erasing a five-point deficit with a 25-8 spurt to defeat Pacific 71-61 in front of 4,309 Saturday afternoon at the Spanos Center.
The Zags didn’t have their ‘A’ game or their shooting touch for lengthy stretches, but they found their stride after the physical Tigers grabbed a 40-35 lead on Ray Bowles’ 3-pointer with 14:45 remaining. Ten minutes later, Gonzaga was in front 60-48.
“They’re not (eligible) in the postseason, so this is their Super Bowl,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, referring to Pacific’s self-imposed ban in response to an on-going NCAA investigation into academic violations. “Our guys responded. This was kind of one you have to dig out and give yourselves a chance to hang in the race.”
The Zags (15-5, 7-2 WCC) have followed up their last 10 losses with victories in their next outing. GU hasn’t dropped two in a row since February 2014.
Senior guard Eric McClellan, senior forward Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore post Domantas Sabonis fueled Gonzaga’s second-half surge. The Zags took the lead for good with a 10-2 run, led by McClellan’s eight points.
Wiltjer, who poured in 45 points here last season, scored 23 points and had a habit of hitting big shots. His 15-foot jumper put Gonzaga on top 43-42.
Pacific (6-13, 4-5) was within 49-48 following Alec Kobre’s 3-pointer with 7:11 left. Senior wing Kyle Dranginis, back in the starting lineup for the first time since early December, nailed a corner 3 to trigger an 11-0 run. Wiltjer took care of the last eight points over a 95-second span, beginning with his rebound of a Sabonis missed free throw and a 3-pointer.
Wiltjer added a putback basket and another 3-pointer to extend Gonzaga’s lead to 12.
“For all of us just coming off a tough loss (to Saint Mary’s), a team can hold their heads down,” Wiltjer said. “I didn’t play particularly well, but I wanted to be aggressive, hunt my shots down the stretch and my teammates got me the ball.”
McClellan, who scored 23 points Thursday, burned the Tigers for 19 points by shooting 6 of 9 from the field and 7 of 8 at the free-throw line.
“Every night is not going to be like this or Saint Mary’s,” McClellan said, “but I’m just taking what they’re giving me.”
All three of McClellan’s steals came in the second half, one diving on a loose ball and quickly calling for a timeout in the midst of Gonzaga’s decisive second-half spurt.
“He was like an all-league guard this weekend,” Few said. “He really shot it, made good decisions on the ball screens. He got us going on the defensive end.”
Sabonis contributed 12 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
The Tigers racked up 26 fouls and two forwards fouled out trying to defend Sabonis and Wiltjer. Few said Pacific is “right up there with BYU as being one of the most physical teams we play. They have 11 guys and five bigs they can cycle through.”
Sabonis connected on only 3 of 10 shots, but he made numerous trips to the free-throw line and he didn’t go long between rebounds.
“Just go get it (off the glass). It was really fun, very physical, the refs let us play,” Sabonis said. “It was great for the team that we were down and we came up toward the end to get the win.”
Both teams were off track and off target on offense in the first half. Gonzaga was fine early, taking a 15-10 lead on Wiltjer’s jump hook with 13:37 left. The Zags were in the bonus a few minutes later but didn’t take full advantage. Sabonis, an 82-percent free-throw shooter, was just 2 of 6 before hitting 4 of 5 in the second half.
Kobre scored 20 points, but Pacific made just 31 percent of its shots.
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