Well, Gonzaga needed to work on free-throw shooting, and it certainly had ample opportunity Saturday night.
The eighth-ranked Zags spent plenty of time at the foul line, which limited some of the flow of their offense but not the effectiveness in a 77-49 nonconference rout over CSU Bakersfield in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Roadrunners, like several others before on GU’s schedule, tried an assortment of defenses – matchup zone, 1-2-2 zone, trapping, man, switching man, full-court press – to try to slow down the Zags’ potent offense.
Gonzaga (6-0) didn’t reach its 90.6-points-per-game average, but it wasn’t necessary because its defense stifled the Roadrunners from start to finish.
“Teams are trying to throw different things at us,” sophomore forward Filip Petrusev said. “The last game (against UT Arlington) they guarded off Ryan (Woolridge) and the bigs. I think we’re ready for most of the things we’re seeing.
“We adjusted pretty good and we were able to get shots on our terms.”
CSU Bakersfield (2-4) committed 25 fouls. Gonzaga, coming off a rough 17-of-30 effort at the foul line against UT Arlington, was slightly better this time, hitting 25 of 39 (64.1%).
Running neck-and-neck with the Roadrunners’ fouls were their turnovers. They committed 27, leading to 27 Gonzaga points.
“To turn a team over 27 times, I don’t know when the last time we’ve done that,” coach Mark Few said. “We were very active on defense with our hands, rotating and making plays. We moved the ball really well and got good shots against a really aggressive, athletic team.”
Too aggressive, in many cases, for the officials. Per usual, opposing bigs stacked up fouls against Gonzaga’s bigs. Petrusev was fouled six times, Drew Timme four, and Killian Tillie and Anton Watson three apiece. The foursome made 18 of 25 free throws.
“We knew going in those guys foul a lot and we have some bigs that are good at drawing fouls,” wing Corey Kispert said. “That’s part of the advantage we have as a team. When you’re not in the flow of the game with all the whistles, you have to focus on getting to the line to get ourselves going.”
Gonzaga’s lead reached double figures, 21-10, on Admon Gilder’s steal and three-point play with 11:28 left in the first half. The Roadrunners kept it interesting until the final 4:35. The Zags closed on a 9-2 run, capped by Joel Ayayi’s 3-pointer created by a nifty pass-fake, to take a 39-21 lead.
The foul line was the main reason Gonzaga had a comfortable halftime lead and also the main reason it didn’t have a bigger cushion. The Zags hit 13 of 22 (59%).
CSU Bakersfield, which committed three fouls in the first minute of the second half, was within 16 until the Zags rattled off nine unanswered points for a 54-29 lead. Timme scored the first six points, and the Zags patiently worked the ball against a zone to find Gilder, who nailed a corner 3-pointer that was in midair when the shot clock expired.
“He (Timme) is a breath of fresh air. His personality, his energy, his confidence is great,” said Few, whose team led by as many as 36 in the second half. “He’s always giving you great effort and great toughness and physicality at both ends.”
The Roadrunners committed just about every type of turnover possible: traveling, three in the key, illegal screen, off-target entry pass, errant inbound pass and at least two shot-clock violations after being forced to take wild shots with time about to expire.
“They got sped up a little bit,” Woolridge said. “Once they started turning it over, then it was like, ‘We have to try to force something.’ ”
The Zags finished with 15 assists on 22 field goals. The Roadrunners’ frequent fouls prevented that assist number from being much higher.
Petrusev led Gonzaga in points (15), rebounds (seven) and assists (four). Tillie hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points, nearly duplicating his effort Tuesday (15 points) in his first game back from knee surgery.
Timme had 11 points, and Gilder and Ayayi each added 10. Ayayi logged a team-high 31-plus minutes with Woolridge sitting out part of the first half with two fouls.
The Zags leave Sunday for the Bahamas. They open against Southern Mississippi on Wednesday.
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