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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga makes ‘great response’ after halftime for blowout 86-68 win over San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – Graham Ike was hot pretty much from the opening tip.

It took a while, but once the rest of Gonzaga Bulldogs heated up, they put together one of the team’s best stretches of the season.

The 23rd-ranked Zags opened the second half with a 24-3 burst – after they had scored the last four points of the first half – to cruise past San Francisco 86-68 on Thursday at the Chase Center.

“It was just a great response to what was a really hard-fought game (in the first half),” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It started with our stops.

“I don’t know how many consecutive stops we had but our defense was just absolutely fantastic in those first 10 minutes of the (second) half, and that led to us getting out on our break. That’s always when we’re at our best.”

Gonzaga’s seventh consecutive win secured the second seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament and a bye into the semifinals. The Zags (23-6, 13-2) close the regular season Saturday against No. 17 Saint Mary’s, which defeated Pepperdine Thursday to clinch an outright championship.

“It’s big for us to get that double bye,” Ike said, “but we still have to take care of business Saturday night.”

USF (22-8, 11-4) will be the third seed. The Dons face Santa Clara on Saturday. The Broncos are locked into the fourth seeded after falling to Portland on Thursday.

Ike’s 16 first-half points carried Gonzaga through some rough stretches offensively. The Zags trailed for more than 17 minutes and didn’t lead until Anton Watson connected on a 10-foot jump hook with 4 seconds left. His bucket put the Zags on top 35-34 at the break.

Gonzaga’s lead quickly grew in the second half. The Zags scored the first 13 points, 11 by Ike and Nolan Hickman.

After Ryan Beasley’s 3-pointer with 15:58 left, Gonzaga scored the next 11 points to take command 59-37. Ike and Hickman combined for nine of those points and Ryan Nembhard chipped in a 10-foot jumper.

“Graham was important the entire game,” said Hickman, when asked about Ike’s scoring in the first half when Gonzaga was otherwise sputtering. “We needed ‘G’ on the floor at all times. He just impacts the game on so many levels.”

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Graham Ike (13) celebrates against the San Francisco Dons during the second half of a college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif. Gonzaga won the game 86-68.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Graham Ike (13) celebrates against the San Francisco Dons during the second half of a college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif. Gonzaga won the game 86-68. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga made 14 of 15 shot attempts, including baskets by Dusty Stromer and Watson to close the first half, over a span of 10-plus minutes. Meanwhile, USF misfired on 15 of its first 16 attempts in the second half. The Zags dialed up their rebounding to limit the Dons to one shot.

“It just felt so great in the moment,” Ike said of GU’s decisive run. “I remember looking up with like 10 minutes to go and they’d only scored eight points in 10 minutes. I was like, ‘Wow, we really playing that defense.’ ”

Gonzaga made nine shots in a row to turn an eight-point lead into a 23-point cushion. By then, Ike had matched his season high of 26 points, scoring his final points with 12:49 remaining.

Ike subbed out for about five minutes and had a shot from close range near the 5-minute mark but it didn’t fall. He settled for 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field and 8 of 8 at the foul line before fouling out.

Hickman scored 19 points in the second half and finished with 22. Nembhard added 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, more than enough to offset five turnovers. Watson chipped in 10 points and five boards.

“It was my teammates,” Hickman said. “They were letting me know the ball was going to go in in (the second) half. I trust my work and I wanted to be aggressive, that’s what I was thinking second half.”

Gonzaga, which led by 29 with 1:38 remaining, made 75% of its shots in the closing half and 62.5% overall. The Zags won the boards 35-26 and held a 52-32 advantage in paint points.

San Francisco, behind 22 combined points from Malik Thomas and Marcus Williams, led by as many as five but Gonzaga caught up at 31 on Hickman’s first field goal, Ike’s basket in the lane and a pair of Stromer free throws.

Gonzaga missed all four of its 3-point attempts but made 12 of 20 inside the arc, led by Ike’s 5 of 7, and held a nine-point edge at the foul line.