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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga sprints out to big lead in first half, routs San Diego 105-63

SAN DIEGO – Mark Few’s halftime message Thursday night at Pepperdine fueled Gonzaga to one of its best stretches of the season in an eventual 25-point victory.

Whatever the coach told his team not only resonated but apparently had some staying power.

After opening the second half in Malibu, California, on a 21-3 run, Gonzaga picked up where it left off in Saturday’s game at San Diego, relying again on crisp offense and suffocating defense to sprint away from another West Coast Conference opponent.

The official tally was 105-63, but the final result was never truly in question after the Bulldogs ripped off a 26-2 run midway through the first half to build a 33-9 lead. Gonzaga established a 54-27 lead at halftime and extended the advantage to a game-high 43 points with 2 minutes remaining.

“Again, we challenged them to stay with it,” said Few, whose team reached the century mark for the fifth time in 17 games. “The game in Spokane (against USD), we had the big lead in the first half and then it just got really choppy and wasn’t good in the second half. Really, really good approach and just monster numbers.

“To go on the road and play defense the way we played in these two games I think is a really, really good sign for us.”

After PJ Hayes knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Toreros their last lead at 7-5, Gonzaga held USD to just one field goal over the next 8:47 and forced the hosts to miss 14 of their next 15 shots from the field.

Gonzaga held USD to 27 points in the first half and limited the Toreros to 6-of-26 shooting from the 3-point line for the game.

As for the monster numbers Few mentioned, those began with a career-high 26 points from redshirt freshman forward Braden Huff, who made 12 of his 17 shot attempts from the field and pulled down five rebounds in less than 20 minutes off the bench.

Gonzaga’s box score also featured three double-doubles. Ryan Nembhard posted 12 points and 11 assists without committing a turnover – the first time the point guard dished out double-digit assists with no turnovers since the third game of Creighton’s 2022-23 season.{a id=”ext-comp-1916” class=”x-menu-item x-unselectable” href=”editorial-asset”}{span id=”ext-gen1732” class=”x-menu-item-text”}{/span}{/a}

GU’s bigs made it easy on Nembhard more times than not in a game where the Bulldogs shot 56% from the field and had an overwhelming 54-30 advantage in paint points.

Huff accounted for much of that, but Ben Gregg scored 15 points and hauled down 10 rebounds despite dealing with minor back spasms in the second half, and Anton Watson added 12 points while tallying 10 rebounds.

“We’ve got a bunch of good big guys that can just make easy shots around the rim, so that definitely helps,” Nembhard said. “Then just playing with pace, trying to get down the floor before the other team and make easy reads.”

Gregg landed awkwardly late in the first half and checked out of the game with 4:12 remaining. The junior forward, who made his second career start on Saturday after debuting in GU’s starting lineup two days earlier at Pepperdine, spent the remainder of the first half on the training table with athletic trainer Josh Therrien.

The Portland native was cleared to return in the second half and seemingly improved his play, posting 12 points, six rebounds and three assists in the final 20 minutes.

“He’s great for us, he’s definitely the heart and soul of this team,” Huff said of his fellow frontcourt mate. “Whenever we need the little things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, he’s going to do it for us. All the bigs, a couple have a (good) night, maybe some don’t but we’re all going to pick each other up and we’re so deep at that position, it’s a great group to go at every day at practice and play with.”

Gonzaga (13-5, 3-1) returns home for Thursday’s WCC showdown against San Francisco (15-5, 4-1), which is coming off a 77-60 home loss to Saint Mary’s on Saturday.