It was going along quite well for San Francisco in the first meeting against Gonzaga until the Dons got Zagged.
Gonzaga rang up seven points in 70 seconds to end the first half and a close game eventually became another blowout. Corey Kispert’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 45 feet was the dagger, not that USF coach Todd Golden needed a reminder.
“Hey, we had three guys on him,” Golden said with a laugh during a phone interview Friday. “It tells a lot about their squad. We played well, as well as anybody probably has up there all year. We’re down three, 7-0 run (by GU) and it’s just deflating.”
The Dons never recovered. GU led by as many as 29 and rolled to an 85-62 win.
The rematch is Saturday afternoon at 3 at War Memorial Gym. If it’s not a program first, it probably should be: Gonzaga is about to play its fifth consecutive West Coast Conference road game during this atypical college basketball season.
The Zags haven’t played at home since Jan. 23, thanks to a couple of COVID-19 postponements and reschedules that added road trips to Pacific and BYU. Meanwhile, San Francisco has only played once since Jan. 23. The Dons were rusty in their return from a COVID pause, falling to visiting Pepperdine 76-68 on Wednesday.
“Just really bad timing,” said Golden, who is 32-21 in his second year. “Not that there’s ever good timing, but man, at this point of the season to have to shut down for two weeks and have guys out of the gym is really tough.
“We played well early. We had a couple of guys (recovering from COVID) on minutes restrictions, (Jamaree Bouyea) gets hurt and the second half was a different story.”
Gonzaga (19-0, 10-0 WCC) is one win from its 24th consecutive 20-win season. The Zags have won 20 straight against the Dons (10-9, 4-5) and 99 in a row over conference teams not named BYU or Saint Mary’s since Feb. 22, 2014.
The Zags have been a handful at home, away or on a neutral court. In six road games, GU is averaging 56.2% from the floor. The Zags have averaged 89 points and given up 68.8 during that stretch. Drew Timme is the top road scorer at 20.2 points, followed by Kispert’s 15.5 and Jalen Suggs’ 14.8.
The Dons didn’t have much success from deep against GU, making 8 of 23 3-pointers. They’re 0-6 when they make fewer than 10 3s.
USF is fourth nationally at 10.8 made 3s per game. The Dons have attempted 581 shots inside the arc and 575 3-pointers. Seven players, including starting forwards Dzmitry Ryuny, Taavi Jurkatamm and Josh Kunen, have made at least 12 3s.
The Zags’ ratio: 812 attempted inside the arc, 384 3s. GU’s 64.3-percent accuracy from inside the arc is No. 1 nationally.
USF’s offense revolves around guards Bouyea (16.7 points) and Khalil Shabazz (16.2). Golden said Bouyea had a positive medical exam and lists him as “questionable but trending in a good direction.”
“The bottom line is we did a really good job keeping them out of transition and making them work for their baskets,” Golden said. “We weren’t able to sustain it in the second half. Maybe some turnovers, a couple of quick shots and they continue to run at you.
“It’s easier said than done and more of a mental thing, but I think we have a good understanding of what we want to try to do. Whether we can do it or not, we’ll see.”
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