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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga withstands early San Francisco surge, hostile road environment to beat Dons 89-73

Feb. 24, 2022 Updated Fri., Feb. 25, 2022 at 3:42 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco kept Gonzaga within striking distance much of the first half on Thursday night, in some ways justifying those who think the Dons could not only earn their first NCAA Tournament bid in 25 years but create some problems once they get there.

None of that meant they came any closer to pulling off an upset of the top-ranked Bulldogs, who scored on their first eight possessions, reached 52 points by halftime and relied on the versatility of their All-American candidates in the frontcourt to handle the Dons 89-73 in front of a sellout crowd at War Memorial Gymnasium.

Freshman Chet Holmgren paced the Zags with 21 points and 15 rebounds for his 11th double-double and the 7-footer who’s seemingly made a habit of performing his best in front of hostile road WCC crowds also added six blocks – one shy of his season-high – along with a season-high four steals.

Junior forward, more of a point-forward Thursday night, Drew Timme closed in on the first triple-double of his career, totaling 20 points, nine rebounds and a career-high eight assists.

“Our defense was so much better in the second half and obviously it helps when you have Chet back there protecting the rim,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “But we also did a much better job on coverages and they’re such a dangerous 3-point shooting team. They made 11 of them, that’s a lot. I thought we did a decent job of chasing them off the line when we could.”

Gonzaga (24-2, 13-0) now sits one win shy of completing a second consecutive unbeaten regular season in the WCC. The Bulldogs close their WCC slate with Saturday’s nationally-televised matchup against No. 23 Saint Mary’s (23-6, 11-3). The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and air on ESPN.

The Zags weathered an early offensive storm from the Dons and brushed off chants from passionate, at-times rowdy USF students who directed “overrated” barbs at Holmgren much of the first half and hurled mini rubber basketballs at the Bulldogs’ bench on three separate occasions inside the final 10 minutes, prompting a warning from the public address announcer.

“Oh yeah you hear it, there’s 500 to 1,000 people, however many people is in the student section yelling,” Holmgren said. “You hear it, but at the same time we’re pretty locked in so you’re not really paying attention to it. It doesn’t really register or get my mind off of what’s happening on the floor. So I’m just trying to do my thing and win the game.”

With their record, ranking and star power, Holmgren and the Zags have invited that level of attention and hostility nearly everywhere they’ve played this season, but it hasn’t deterred them and at times seems to inspire their best stretches on both ends of the floor.

That was the case minutes after USF students began to rain “overrated” chants on Gonzaga’s 7-footer, who turned in another impressive sequence when he collected a defensive rebound, wove through four or five defenders and took off a few steps inside the free throw line, capping the play with an uncontested, two-handed dunk.

“You don’t know until it happens,” Holmgren said. “You’ve got to make the read live and then sometimes somebody will step up and stop the ball. Two people might collapse and you’re not going to dribble through two people. So it’s just making the read, if two people step up then and someone is open, you find the open guy. So it’s not ever time, but sometimes there’s confusion in transition and guys run into each other, guys get all caught up and sometimes you’re man’s behind you and there might be an opening.”

USF, trying to become the first WCC team outside of BYU and Saint Mary’s since 2014 to hand the Bulldogs a loss, kept Gonzaga in a single-digit game until the final two minutes of the first half. Holmgren’s coast-to-coast sequence made it an eight-point game with 1:48 left freshman Hunter Sallis drained a 3-pointer on the next possession, extending Gonzaga’s lead to 50-39.

The Zags led by as many as 19 points in the second half and never led by fewer than 10.

Andrew Nembhard (17 points) and Julian Strawther (15) combined for another 32 Gonzaga points while Rasir Bolton had nine and Sallis, who spent much of the game guarding USF guard Jamaree Bouyea, had another seven points. Strawther took a hard fall and landed on his back while contesting a 3-pointer in the first half, but returned to the game after spending a few minutes with GU’s athletic training staff.

Bouyea, who scored 25 points in the first meeting with Gonzaga, was held to 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting while USF’s second-leading scorer, Khalil Shabazz, scored a team-high points on 6-of-18 shooting. Shabazz landed on his nose late in the second half and appeared to lose a significant amount of blood before returning to his feet and returning to USF’s bench with a towel covering his nose.

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