LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga needed something.
After yet another Zags’ turnover to open the second half, Pacific was racing down court in transition. The Tigers tried to pass ahead but Gonzaga’s Jordan Mathews jumped up to made the interception.
The senior guard drove into heavy traffic, hit a layup while being fouled and ended up on his back. He popped up on his feet in a nanosecond and finally a pro-Gonzaga crowd had something to cheer about.
Mathews gave the Zags, and the fans, a jolt. And then he gave them a bunch more for good measure.
“The coaches just told us to be aggressive coming out of the half, to play with some passion and fire,” Mathews said. “I just tried to make a play and read the passing lane and stole the ball.”
Many of those same things – aggression, passion, fire – were largely absent in the first half, which ended with Gonzaga (30-1) on top 27-25, and the fans sitting on their hands inside Orleans Arena.
“I’m really glad he made that play and got us going and basically got everybody involved,” center Przemek Karnowski said.
Mathews finished with a season-high 22 points, 20 in the second half, as the fourth-ranked Zags blasted Pacific 82-50 on Saturday in the WCC tournament quarterfinals at the Orleans Arena.
After Mathews’ steal and three-point play, Johnathan Williams added a pair of baskets, Nigel Williams-Goss hit a pair of free throws and Karnowski made a layup.
Mathews punctuated a 14-2 burst with a 3-pointer and Gonzaga was comfortably in front 41-27. He didn’t stop there, enticing a foul on a 3-point attempt and making all three free throws.
The graduate transfer from Cal connected on three more 3-pointers as Gonzaga’s lead reached 26 points.
“That’s what he does,” Karnowski said. “You cannot leave him open. You leave him open once and he gets hot and he’s going to hit four or five in a row.”
Gonzaga’s offense, fairly quiet for most of the BYU game and the opening 20 minutes against the Tigers, followed Mathews’ lead.
Seven of the Zags’ 11 assists came in the second half. They had just four turnovers after committing nine in the opening half. Free throws, one of the biggest shortcomings against BYU, were on target. They made 21 of 25.
Mathews tried to single-handedly fix Gonzaga’s long-range shooting woes. He hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, but the rest of the Zags were just 1 of 9, a carryover from the BYU setback last Saturday in the regular-season finale.
“He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with,” freshman center Zach Collins said. “We expect him to not only score but tonight was one of his best defensive games.”
Mathews went to bench with Gonzaga leading by 25 with 3:05 remaining. The applause built up until most of the Zags fans offered a standing ovation.
“That thing we had last Saturday (against BYU), we stumbled a little bit,” Mathews said. “It’s one game. We’re back on the winning track. Thirty wins is big for this group and this program. It’s special to be part of.”
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