Gonzaga went from zero to 60 in less than 19 minutes. Not great for a race car, but lightning quick for a college basketball team.
The second-ranked Bulldogs – who appear bound for No. 1 when the AP poll is released Monday – put up 64 first-half points and coasted to a 112-77 victory Saturday over Eastern Washington at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Zags’ built a 31-point lead at the break, quickly putting to bed the notion of a potential trap game because of where it fell on the schedule following a tough three-week stretch.
Gonzaga had other concerns. The atmosphere was on the opposite end of the noise meter from Wednesday’s raucous gathering for North Carolina. The Eagles have the nation’s top-scoring offense (90.7 points per game), shooters at every position and they are expected to contend for the Big Sky Conference title.
The Zags brushed that aside by staying on task and manhandling EWU inside. And outside, for that matter.
“The first half was terrific,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do. They had our full attention. We saw what they were able to do to some other people, so I’m proud of how our guys approached this game.”
Some additional motivation arrived about 3 hours before tipoff when No. 1 Kansas lost to No. 18 Villanova in Philadelphia.
“Very aware, we were all watching in here after our shootaround,” junior wing Corey Kispert said. “It was exciting and cool to have that in our minds. A little motivation to take care of business.”
Gonzaga did the majority of its business in the lane, even with EWU (7-4) sagging off point guard Ryan Woolridge and post Filip Petrusev to pack the paint. Woolridge made three 3-pointers and scored 15 points. Petrusev finished with 24 points and drew eight fouls on EWU defenders.
The Zags exploited their size advantage with a 38-12 edge in paint points and a 30-13 advantage on the boards in the opening half. In the second half, EWU committed 19 fouls and the Zags finished with 40 free-throw attempts.
“They were trying to sag off me and Ryan,” Petrusev said. “But we still tried to find ways to throw it inside, either on post-ups or trying to get offensive rebounds, make position so guys could penetrate. Just tried to dominate inside.
“We got the ball moving. We saw right away what they were trying to do on defense so we just took great shots.”
On one possession midway through the first half, Gonzaga was credited with four offensive rebounds while missing five shots. Gonzaga finished the half with 14 offensive rebounds, converting the other 10 into 19 second-chance points.
“Those (EWU) bigs, their strength is offense and shooting,” Kispert said. “We knew from the very beginning we could dominate them inside. We had that possession where we must have gotten six offensive rebounds, we just couldn’t clean it up, but that was the mentality we had. It kind of showed our game plan right there, just to crash the offensive glass.”
Five Zags reached double figures by halftime. Gonzaga’s 64 points were its most in a half since at least the 2005-06 season.
“Like I said earlier, it was like playing (the video game) NBA 2K on expert level,” Eagles coach Shantay Legans said. “They’re talented, big and hard to stop.”
The Eagles’ offense perked up in the second half, forcing Few to call two timeouts to try to slow EWU’s momentum. The Eagles were within 80-59 when GU’s Anton Watson, returning from a one-game absence due to a shoulder injury, kept an offensive rebound alive and Admon Gilder buried a 3-pointer.
Gilder finished with three 3-pointers and 22 points. Kispert and Joel Ayayi each had 13 points.
The Zags are 13-1 with one nonconference game left – Detroit Mercy on Dec. 30 – before opening West Coast Conference play.
“I think we’ve learned that we can beat anybody if we give it 100 percent and focus in on what the coaches want us to do,” Woolridge said. “There’s no stopping us. The ceiling is high, really high.”
EWU guard Jacob Davison endured a tough first half with four turnovers before scoring 13 of his 17 points in the closing 20 minutes. Reserve guard Tyler Kidd had 12 of his 16 points in the first half.
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