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Gonzaga Basketball

Recap and highlights: Gonzaga catches fire in second half, beats San Francisco 89-77 in WCC semifinals

By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review

LAS VEGAS – What happens in Las Vegas seems to happen every March at the West Coast Conference Tournament.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the championship game – maybe the closest thing to a safe bet in the gambling capital of the U.S.

The second-seeded Zags rallied from an eight-point deficit in the first half to handle No. 3 San Francisco 89-77 Monday at Orleans Arena. No. 1 Saint Mary’s dismantled No. 4 Santa Clara 79-65 in the first semifinal.

So, for the 12th time in 16 tournaments held at Orleans Arena, the Zags (25-6) and Gaels (25-7) will clash for the championship. Gonzaga is 8-3 in those meetings.

The Zags will play for the WCC title for the 27th straight season.

This one was pretty much a replay of Gonzaga’s 86-68 victory over the Dons at the Chase Center on Feb. 29. GU led by 1 at halftime in that game before catching fire in the closing half. A similar storyline unfolded in Monday’s semifinal.

No one was hotter than Gonzaga’s Ben Gregg. The junior forward didn’t make a shot in the first half – 0 of 4 from the field, 0 of 3 behind the 3-point arc – while pulling down eight rebounds.


Gregg buried four 3-pointers in the first 6:25 of the second half, including two in a row trailing the break that gave Gonzaga a 63-47 lead.

Gregg wasn’t alone. Nolan Hickman had 15 of his 20 points in the second half. Anton Watson was steady throughout and finished with 17 points. Ryan Nembhard added 16 points and 12 assists. Gregg added 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Gonzaga made 10 of its first 11 shots, including 6 of 7 3-pointers, to open the second half.

The Dons tailored their defense to slow down GU’s Graham Ike, who scored 48 points in the teams’ first two meetings. It worked to some degree as Ike was limited to 10 points, ending his streak of seven consecutive games with at least 20 points, but the Zags still found numerous scoring options.

Gonzaga trailed most of the first half and fell behind by 35-27 after repeatedly losing track of the Dons’ better shooters (Marcus Williams, Malik Thomas and Ndewedo Newbury and Ryan Beasley).

Those four combined for seven first-half 3-pointers as the Dons led for 12-plus minutes before Gonzaga finally heated up late in the half. The Zags scored 11 unanswered points to move on top 38-35.

Watson scored inside, Ike fed Hickman for a 3-pointer and Dusty Stromer connected on a 3-pointer after a Nembhard offensive rebound. Nembhard capped the run with a mid-range jumper before USF’s Jonathan Mogbo hit a bank shot just before the buzzer to cut GU’s lead to 38-37.

Gonzaga reached the 25-win mark for the 17th consecutive season.


First half

18:59 – GU 2, SF 0: Nembhard feeds Watson for a dunk to open the scoring. Zags got the ball back after a missed 3 from Gregg.

15:57 – GU 7, SF 5: Zags out to a 7-2 lead, but the Dons pull back and will have a chance at two free throws when play resumes after Ike is called for a foul.

GU opens 3 of 8 from the field, while SF is 2 of 7.

11:46 – SF 16, GU 12: Gonzaga weathers an 8-0 Dons run and lengthy shooting drought by getting to the free throw line. Zags will shoot two at the other end of the U12 media timeout.

GU hasn’t hit a shot from the field in 3:55. Dons letting it fly from deep, 3 of 8 on 3s in the early going.

6:52 – SF 28, GU 23: Newbury hits his second wide-open 3 of the game and the Zags call a timeout, Few upset at allowing the open look.

USF on a 6-0 run, before that Nembhard helped GU snap its drought and briefly take the lead with a 3-pointer and a layup off a steal.

2:26 – SF 35, GU 29: Dons build their largest lead of the game, but the Zags cut it back and Gregg will shoot two free throws on the other end of the U4 media timeout.

USF is living by the 3, shooting 7 of 15 in the half. Zags finding success in transition. 

Nembhard and Watson lead GU with nine points apiece. Gregg is 0 of 4 from the field, but has seven rebounds. Ike with just four points on 2 of 7 shooting, struggling against Mogbo.

Williams leads USF with 11 points, Thomas adds eight.

0:54 – GU 36, SF 35: Zags snatch the lead back in a blink, on a 9-0 run thanks to 3-pointers from Hickman and Stromer. Nembhard collected his own rebound and kicked it back to the freshman, who subbed in for Watson with foul trouble.

San Francisco calls timeout.


For the third time this season, only one point separates Gonzaga and San Francisco at halftime, with GU ahead 38-37 in the WCC tournament semifinal at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Zags surged to the lead late and Ryan Nembhard hit a jumper to give them a 3-point advantage in the closing seconds. The Dons hustled down the court and Jonathan Mogbo hit a basket at the buzzer.

Nembhard leads GU with 11 points and five assists. Anton Watson adds nine points. 

Second half

19:46 – GU 40, SF 37: Hickman hits a runner to open the scoring in the second half.

17:50 – GU 45, SF 39: Gregg hits a 3 and the Dons call a timeout to try and slow a strong start from GU.

15:34 – GU 51, SF 43: Gregg hits another 3 and Nembhard is called for a foul on the other end to signal the U16 media timeout.

Zags have a 13-6 advantage since halftime. Nembhard and Watson still lead with 11 points apiece, but Hickman and Gregg are up to nine apiece.

13:32 – GU 63, SF 47: Gregg hits back-to-back trailing 3s and USF calls another timeout. Zags on a 12-2 run and Gregg has a team-high 15 points.

Dons going to have to answer quick.

10:27 – GU 68, SF 52: San Francisco finally gets a shot to fall, but it’s been all Zags in the second half. Nembhard up to 14 points and nine assists, he’ll soon join Gregg with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds). 

Ike was called for a technical foul and went to the bench.

7:41 – GU 72, SF 58: Zags get to the line at the U8 media timeout. GU in full control here.

5:03 – GU 81, SF 68: Dons hit a 3-pointer and call a timeout. On the other end, though. Nembhard throws a perfect pass through two defenders for his 10th assist. If anything show’s how well the GU guard is playing right now its that play. Nembhard with 14 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers.

2:40 – GU 83, SF 70: Zags on a cold streak, have missed their last four shots.

0:48 – GU 85, SF 74: Nembhard headed to the line and that will about do it. Zags on their way to the WCC championship game.

Starting 5: Zags sticking with Nembhard (12.8 ppg), Hickman (14), Ike (16.9), Watson (14.2) and Gregg (8.6). GU has only lost one game with Gregg as a starter. Dons rolling out Thomas (11.5 ppg), Sharvjamts (8.1), Williams (14), Mogbo (14.5) and Newbury (9.3).


Gonzaga is used to coming home from Las Vegas with hardware. Even so, this year they’ll be playing the role of underdog.

The second-seeded Bulldogs (24-6, No. 17 AP) open West Coast Conference Tournament play tonight against the No. 3 seed San Francisco Dons (23-9) at the Orleans Arena.

Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2, following the other semifinal between Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara.

The Zags, winners of eight straight, have been playing their best basketball of the season of late, having scored convincing wins over the other three teams in the WCC tourney field to close the season.

Still, they come into Monday’s game feeling slighted.

Gonzaga was shut out of the WCC postseason awards, which rubbed some players on the team.

“Some guys aren’t too happy,” GU’s Braden Huff, a WCC all-freshman team selection said. “There’s some motivation for some guys on our team. I think we’re going to use that, just come out strong in these next couple games.” 

We’ll see how that plays out on the court. GU beat USF twice this year: 77-72 in Spokane on Jan. 25 and 86-68 in San Francisco on Feb. 29.

Series history

Gonzaga holds a 73-22 all-time series lead over San Francisco and has won the last 29 meetings with the Dons.

That’s not to say recent games haven’t been competitive. USF has come within five points of beating GU twice the past two years and lost by nine in last year’s WCC tournament.

Team stats

Individual leaders

Game preview

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