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TV Take: Gonzaga again passes San Francisco’s physical test to remain unbeaten in WCC play

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 7, 2019

Well, at least the third meeting in the West Coast Conference tournament – if there is one – should be fun. But the final score may not be all that close.

The first two games between fourth-ranked Gonzaga and the University of San Francisco haven’t been within single digits.

Close, maybe not, but intense? That’s for sure.

The Bulldogs’ 92-62 victory Thursday night, in front of the familiar trio of KHQ announcers at the McCarthey Athletic Center, certainly was that.

What they saw …

• Surprisingly, it was the first time since New Year’s Eve – in the Cal State Bakersfield game – that Greg Heister on the play-by-play, and analysts Dan Dickau and Richard Fox, have been together broadcasting a GU game.

They saw the Zags (22-2 overall, 9-0 WCC) win handily, but not easily. Mainly because USF was physical on every possession.

In the pregame conversation, Fox pointed to a play at the end of the first meeting – a 96-83 Gonzaga win – in which Brandon Clarke dunked a Josh Perkins feed as the clock was winding down. Fox thought it would be a motivator for the Dons (17-6, 5-4). It was.

And possibly an instigator for a hard foul by USF’s star, Frankie Ferrari, on a second-half Zach Norvell Jr. breakaway.

Norvell, whose career-best 15 first-half points helped the Zags take a 13-point halftime edge, was lining up a dunk when Ferrari ran him down and tied him up, taking him to the floor.

Words (profane ones, it looked like) were exchanged. Technicals were called. Asked by Heister later if the end-of-game play in the Bay Area led to that foul and another hard foul on a late Filip Petrusev breakaway, Fox didn’t hesitate. He expressed his opinion they were all related.

After the Norvell play, Heister summed up the action succinctly.

“It’s a 14-point game, under 15 minutes to play and the fireworks have started,” he said as the broadcast went to commercial.

• In one sense, Norvell started the fireworks with his hot first half, something we haven’t seen that often.

“We think of him as a second-half player,” Fox said, as Heister noted some of Norvell’s top performances after halftime.

“When he gets hot,” Dickau said of Norvell, “he gets hot. Usually, he does his damage in bunches in the second half.”

Norvell scored just one point after halftime, but Clarke and Rui Hachimura picked up the slack.

• Clarke, who was featured on the postgame interview, led both teams with 20 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

He also set a Gonzaga record for most blocked shots in a season, breaking Austin Daye’s mark that has lasted a while.

It was expected and KHQ’s production crew was ready. As always, it was covered well.

What we saw …

• The intensity showed in interesting ways in the first half, even bubbling over in a heated conversation between referee Greg Nixon and Mark Few.

Referees in Spokane know Nixon well, as he’s been the featured instructor in a local camp for high school officials over the years. His personality at those camps can be termed, nicely, as loud.

But it was Few who seemed to be the loudest midway in the first half when Nixon, under the hoop on a San Francisco breakaway, let a foul by Norvell on Jamaree Bouvea go and then also allowed Jordan Ratinho’s rebound contact with Jeremy Jones to go uncalled as well. Except Jones fell to the floor, and Nixon whistled him for a travel.

In total, the Dons had the ball, as they should have, but Few didn’t seem happy that Ratinho’s contact was left uncalled. He said something to Nixon, who had gone over the scoring table to talk with partner Rick Batsell. Nixon responded by stopping, gesturing and saying something back to Few.

• Maybe Few was upset about earlier contact by Ratinho. In the first minute of the game, he stuck out his right foot and tripped Clarke, who was raising up for a lob from Perkins.

KHQ didn’t show that part of the play in its replay. But a quick rewind with the DVR showed the trip clearly. Nixon, Batsell and Shawn Lehigh didn’t see it. That was part of the problem all night.

Symptomatic of the problem was a play a couple of minutes after the Norvell/Ferrari incident.

On an inbounds play, Ferrari threw a quick pass to Nate Renfro.

The Zags collapsed and replay showed Renfro traveled, twice, before throwing up a wild shot.

Killian Tillie grabbed it, despite Renfro hitting him across the head and arms. Ferrari grabbed Tillie’s arm and wrestled the ball free, hitting Renfro for a layup. Neither Nixon, outside, or Lehigh, inside, blew their whistle.

• A minute later in an unrelated incident, Tillie left the game, and the court, limping on his right foot. He missed the entire nonconference schedule with an injury to his same ankle.

Tillie returned later, sat on the bench and watched the end of a game not to be missed.

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