SAN FRANCISCO – Gonzaga, the only program in the country to reach five consecutive Sweet 16s, seems to have a good handle on postseason success.
Of course, that didn’t stop a commentator on ESPN’s college basketball wrap-up show Saturday night from trotting out the familiar refrain that it’s hard to gauge the Zags because they’re rarely challenged in the WCC – hours after they received a major challenge from San Francisco at War Memorial Gym.
More tests await for second-ranked Gonzaga, with a pair of matchups against rival Saint Mary’s and a road trip to Provo to face BYU. The Cougars and Gaels share second at 6-3, three games behind Gonzaga (9-0). Both are in the top 33 in Sunday’s NET rankings, so the road games fall in the Quadrant 1 category, as could both the home games (if they are in the top 30).
San Francisco is No. 83 and Santa Clara 100, so both go on Gonzaga’s résumé as Quadrant 2 road wins.
In junior wing Corey Kispert’s mind, San Francisco was roughly the equivalent of what the Zags might encounter in an early-round NCAA Tournament contest.
“It’s so helpful,” he said. “Everything that could have gone wrong for us went wrong. Our point guard (Ryan Woolridge) was in foul trouble, he plays 35 minutes a game. Our bigs were in foul trouble, too. They were putting a lot of foul pressure on us.
“That’s kind of the prototypical team that you’re going to see in the first couple games in March – bigs that can shoot it and guards that are really quick and athletic and can (isolate) you. Those are the games we have to play in, we have to know who to go to at the end of games, who can make free throws. Pretty cool environment in (War Memorial), so lots of fun.”
Kispert hit a pair of field goals in the final 93 seconds, including an and-one. Admon Gilder buried two free throws with 3.6 seconds left. The Zags were 25 of 32 at the foul line, including 14 of 17 (82.4%) in the second half.
Freshman forward Drew Timme’s fingerprints were all over the win.
Timme, making his second start in place of the injured Killian Tillie, and Filip Petrusev dominated inside, combining for 42 points, 15 boards and four assists.
“He stepped up big-time,” Petrusev said. “We knew Killian wasn’t going to play and he took it on himself to contribute. We trust him, too.”
Timme made 6 of 11 shots and 7 of 8 free throws. He entered the game shooting 57.3% at the stripe and left it at 60.2%.
“That’s what they gave us. If they single cover me and Filip, it lets us go to work,” Timme said. “Finally hit some free throws, that was nice. That’s a good confidence-booster.”
Timme was a difference-maker defensively with three blocks. He contested, without fouling, several shots that were way off target in the closing minutes.
“He got down and moved his feet on some switches, came over and blocked a shot and just was active and making plays,” head coach Mark Few said.
“I thought that was huge, especially when they were going small. He was something that we could go to, and then he was still delivering at the other end, too.”
Tillie sat out the USF game after suffering a sprained left ankle Thursday against Santa Clara.
It’s the seventh game that Tillie has missed this season, including the first four games of the season following an October knee surgery.
It doesn’t appear to be a long-term injury, but there’s still no definitive timeline for Tillie’s return.
“It’s another ankle sprain, and a painful one,” Few said. “We’ll see. He couldn’t have played (Saturday). A lot of it will be how he responds on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and hopefully he can play Thursday (vs. Loyola Marymount), but I don’t know. With those things, it’s all about how the week progresses.”
Tillie was walking without the noticeable limp he had following Thursday’s game.
The senior forward was in good spirits in pregame warm-ups, posing for pictures with Gonzaga fans while teammates went through drills.
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