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Difference makers: Anton Watson delivers season-high 20 points to lead Gonzaga past Khalil Shabazz, USF

Anton Watson

After being left off the all-conference teams that were released last week, Watson didn’t waste time making an impact Monday night, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 13 points within the first seven minutes of the game. Watson didn’t score for the remainder of the first half and went to the bench with foul trouble, but the Gonzaga Prep product made contributions on both ends in the second half. Watson finished with a season-high 20 points, hitting 20-plus for the first time since scoring a career-high 23 points on Feb. 9, 2021, against Portland. Watson finished 8 of 16 from the field and 2 of 6 from the 3-point line, rounding out his stat line with seven rebounds and three assists.

Khalil Shabazz

San Francisco’s veteran guard helped the Dons climb back into the game after falling into a 15-point first-half hole. Shabazz scored 14 points in the final 15 minutes, 30 seconds of the first half and continued to add to his total in the second, scoring 12 more to finish with a game-high 26 points. The fifth-year senior who started his career at Division II Central Washington made 9 of 24 shots from the field and finished 6 of 15 from the 3-point line. Shabazz, winless in 11 games against Gonzaga, still finishes his career against the Bulldogs with an impressive scoring clip, averaging better than 17 points per game.

Turning point

San Francisco trimmed what was once a 15-point deficit to two points midway through the second half and had a chance to take the lead when Ndwedo Newbury was blocked at the rim by Watson. The Dons were able to jump on the loose ball, but Shabazz was stuffed inside by Drew Timme and Malachi Smith converted a putback on Julian Strawther’s missed 3-pointer at the other end to extend the lead to five points. Watson came up with a third straight blocked shot for the Zags, turning away Marcus Williams’ layup and Rasir Bolton knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game to make it a seven-point GU lead. Gonzaga led by multiple possessions for the remainder of the game.