It may have been two weeks late, but the University of San Francisco finally had a chance to show its early season success was real and not a mirage.
For the first half, the Dons made it clear they expected to compete with the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs not just Thursday night but beyond.
Then the second half began.
And Rich Waltz and Dan Dickau, calling the game for the CBS Sports Network, stopped going to commercial emphasizing how tight the game was. In the end, the Zags followed a script laid out by Mark Few in a halftime interview and won 78-62 over USF at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
What they saw …
• One would expect a game that featured a 17-2 first-half run by the Bulldogs would result in a big lead at halftime and another easy win.
Not this night. Not after the Dons had run out to an early 15-4 lead that, shockingly, featured Drew Timme missing his first five shots – as many as he had missed in the past two games. He finished with a team-high 23 points while Chet Holmgren added a career-high 22.
The two contrasting runs resulted in a 36-33 Gonzaga lead at halftime.
That the gap wasn’t any wider was a testament to the Dons’ tenacity, their rebounding and GU’s inability to hit shots that were contested heavily.
San Francisco (15-4 overall, 2-2 West Coast Conference ) won the first-half battle on the glass (21-17), forced Timme into 1-of-8 shooting – the Zags were 43% as a team – and seemed to have an answer for every Gonzaga adjustment.
After halftime, Gonzaga dominated the glass, shot a hair better and turned the tables on the Dons by locking down everyone in green except fifth-year senior guard Jamaree Bouyea (25 points and seven rebounds).
“You have to give San Francisco a ton of credit,” said Dickau as the game wound down. “They came to Spokane and they have battled throughout the night.”
“San Francisco just ran out of gas, especially midway in the second half,” Waltz added.
“The talent of the Zags was too much to overcome,” Dickau noted as the teams shook hands.
• There’s probably little chance Few will do anything besides coach, but if he wanted to become an analyst, he would be pretty good at it. At least his halftime appearance with CBS sideline reporter Jenny Dell sounded like a budding Jay Bilas.
Dell asked Few what had changed after the Zags trailed 15-4 early on. What Few talked about is exactly what Dickau pointed out while it was happening.
“We started playing with better energy on the defensive end,” Few pointed out, echoing a statement Dickau had made about 15 minutes before. But Few wasn’t about to let his offense off the hook.
“Obviously, offensively we’re missing a bunch of the shots we have been making, especially these last couple weeks,” he added.
And how would the Zags fix the issues after halftime?
“Hopefully, we can get going a little better,” Few said after the defensive intensity had to continue, “and finish those plays around the basket.”
A lot of analysts would struggle to hit the mark any cleaner – and as succinctly. Or be able to tell one of the teams to execute it.
What we saw …
• The “let-them-play” crowd had their way for much of the first half as the refereeing trio of Chuck Jones, Eric Curry and veteran David Hall seemed content to watch like the 6,000 in attendance – after the first few minutes.
But that changed in the second half when a no-call by Jones resulted in a Todd Golden technical foul.
The San Francisco coach watched Julian Strawther run up Bouyea’s back, resulting in a turnover instead of much-deserved foul. He responded by sprinting near halfcourt – well out of the coaching box – and showing his displeasure.
Curry wasn’t having it. Rasir Bolton went to the line to make 1 of 2 free throws.
But the technical paid dividends in one regard. Curry’s next three whistles results in Gonzaga fouls, including the third on Strawther, which probably felt to everyone in white as a makeup call.
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