STOCKTON, Calif. – Gonzaga had another lengthy dry spell on offense, and those have been popping up with more frequency in the last few weeks.
Good thing the Zags had company Thursday night.
Pacific matched Gonzaga turnover for turnover, missed shot for missed shot, empty possession for empty possession for most of the second half.
But there were two big differences. One, Gonzaga kept grabbing offensive boards and converting them into important points. Two, the Zags had a lead to play with after building a seven-point halftime edge.
The 12th-ranked Zags won’t hang this one on a museum wall anytime soon, but they were able to brush aside the Tigers 71-61 in front of 3,453 at the Spanos Center.
Gonzaga (22-4, 12-1 WCC) remained one game behind No. 11 Saint Mary’s (24-2, 13-0) entering Saturday’s showdown in Moraga, California. The Gaels handled Loyola Marymount 83-62.
“It was exactly how I thought it would be,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “Pacific is playing some really good basketball. Damon (Stoudamire, Tigers coach) has done a wonderful job instilling toughness. They’re organized. I was proud of how tough we were.
“We were far from perfect but we were tough, and we just found ways.”
Sophomore forward Killian Tillie was feeling far from perfect as he continues to battle the flu, but he fought through it with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He’s been limited at practice but said he’s feeling better than he did in Saturday’s win over BYU.
Corey Kispert’s line on the stat sheet wasn’t eye-popping, but the freshman wing hauled down four offensive rebounds, all in the second half and all seemingly at crucial times.
Tillie, Johnathan Williams and Zach Norvell Jr. combined for eight offensive boards. GU held a 13-5 advantage in second-chance points.
“They killed us on the glass down the stretch and pretty much all game,” Pacific guard Miles Reynolds said. “That’s what hurt us.”
There weren’t many momentum-changing runs, but Gonzaga put together one in the second half. It was a modest 8-1 stretch, but it padded the Zags’ lead to 55-42 with 8:50 remaining.
From there, the offense stalled with a mix of errant shots and careless turnovers. The same could be said for Pacific, which committed turnovers on four straight possessions as the Zags expanded their lead.
Gonzaga missed nine straight shots before Kispert grabbed an offensive rebound and fed Norvell for a layup. After a Gonzaga turnover, Kispert snagged another offensive board and it turned into a floater by Josh Perkins in the lane.
“When our offense isn’t really as pretty as we want it to be and we’re missing shots … it’s my job to crash the offensive boards and get our team extra possessions,” Kispert said. “That’s kind of my role.”
Tillie had a tip-in and the Zags sealed the win by making 10 of 10 free throws in the final minute, six by Perkins.
The Zags moved in front to stay on Tillie’s 3-pointer with 15:10 left in the first half. Tillie scored nine points in the first six minutes, helping the Zags to a 14-8 edge.
“I was just trying to go right away with energy,” Tillie said.
Gonzaga stretched it to nine on Norvell’s driving layup, but the Tigers, who usually struggle from beyond the arc, stayed close behind Roberto Gallinat’s trio of 3-pointers and another by Reynolds as the shot clock expired.
Meanwhile, GU took it inside for 20 paint points in the opening half. Williams worked against 7-footer Namdi Okonkwo for a pair of baskets and Rui Hachimura posted up for a layup to push Gonzaga’s lead to 36-29 at half.
Pacific’s offense consisted of guards trying to get to the rim off the bounce. The Tigers’ dribble penetration didn’t result in many baskets, but they were able to get to the free-throw line. Gonzaga made it closer than it needed to be by fouling on consecutive 3-point attempts in the closing minutes.
“It’s just a drive, drive, drive game,” Few said. “I’m sure it’s hard to officiate because there’s a collision on every play and we’re trying to keep our hands back. They’re strong and they can finish.”
The Tigers couldn’t overcome abysmal second-half shooting. They were 9 of 29 (31 percent) and finished at 35.7 percent overall. Gonzaga was even colder (27.6 percent).
“I thought we played pretty darn good defense the whole night,” Few said.
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