LAS VEGAS – Until further notice, Gonzaga’s record for shooting percentage in a half is under siege.
The sixth-ranked Zags messed with it in the second half against Loyola Marymount on Saturday but a late miss dropped them just below the program standard of 80 percent. They were back at it in Monday night’s WCC Tournament semifinal, nailing 16 of their first 20 attempts before “cooling off.”
And then they made 5 of 6 shots to open the second half.
There were dunks and long-distance 3-pointers, and everything in between. There have been numerous options, but it has been driven by Killian Tillie, Zach Norvell Jr., Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura in the first two tournament games at the Orleans Arena.
Top-seeded Gonzaga led by as many as 23 in the first half and made quick work of No. 4 San Francisco 88-60 to advance to the championship game for the 21st consecutive season.
As smooth as the Zags’ offense was, their defense was nearly as good after a so-so start. The Dons rely on 3-pointers and guards creating via dribble penetration. Gonzaga (29-4) shut down both aspects in the final 30 minutes.
“Obviously we’ve been making a lot of shots in the second half (Saturday) and throughout this game,” coach Mark Few said. “But our defense from the 15-minute mark on in the first half was what won us that game.”
Tillie nearly pitched another perfect game. He made 10 of 11 field-goal attempts en route to 26 points in 26 minutes. He hit all five of his 3-point tries for the second consecutive game and he’s made 11 in a row dating back to the regular-season finale against BYU.
“I just saw that (on stat sheet),” Tillie cracked of his lone miss. “I’m kind of mad, but it’s OK.”
Hachimura had 17 points, including a pair of dunks. Tillie and Hachimura, Gonzaga’s two power forwards, combined for 20 points in the first 11 minutes. Williams added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Norvell scored all 14 of his points in the first half.
This is how efficient the Zags were in the first half: They didn’t have an offensive rebound until less than 2 minutes remained because there were hardly any to retrieve.
“It was a little stressful in the first half (Saturday against LMU), they took us out of our actions. It was fun to get our flow back, see shots going in,” said point guard Josh Perkins, who had eight assists. “Tillie hitting 3s like that, Snacks (Norvell’s nickname) hitting 3s, J3 (Williams) dunking, Rui dunking … it was fun.
“I don’t know what you do when we can go inside and hit 3s? I don’t know how you scout us? Hopefully the ball keeps going in like that. Very versatile group.”
Dons’ coach Kyle Smith can attest to that.
“When they’re shooting the ball like that…,” shrugged Smith, who is optimistic his Dons (18-15) will get an opportunity to play in a postseason tournament. “They started out 7 for 7. Even if you’re playing bad defense it’s hard to go 7 of 7.”
USF point guard Frankie Ferrari triggers the offense but Gonzaga limited his drives, forcing Ferrari and back-court mates Jordan Ratinho and Chase Foster to try to finish over taller defenders.
Ferrari finished with nine points, two assists and two turnovers. Ratinho scored the game’s first bucket, but put up just three shots the rest of the way. Foster made 1 of 4 field-goal attempts. Nate Renfro, who averages just 5.5 points, stepped up with 15 points but no other Dons reached double digits.
“We did a great job,” Perkins said. “Frankie is a big-time point guard, along with (LMU’s) James Batemon, those have been some tough tasks we’ve been asked to do. Our bigs are always there for us.”
USF shot 37 percent and a chilly 23 percent on 3-pointers.
“They cover up the rim,” Smith said. “They’re one of the best in the country on 2-point percentage defense. They were really locked in to guarding Frankie and keeping him out of the lane. He really didn’t have a lot of places to throw the ball.”
The Zags roll into Tuesday’s title game on a 13-game winning streak. They’ve won 16 WCC Tournament games in a row.
“It’s an unbelievable streak we have going,” Few said or reaching 21 straight championship games. “They’re never easy.”
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