Back in WCC race, No. 16 Gonzaga goes for sweep of BYU
Just when it appeared No. 16 Gonzaga’s streak of 10 consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season titles was about to end, the Bulldogs received a lifeline.
Gonzaga defeated San Francisco 99-81 Thursday night, while No. 15 Saint Mary’s lost 78-74 in overtime at Loyola Marymount.
That pulled the Bulldogs within a game of the first-place Gaels, the team Gonzaga will host in the conference finale on Feb. 25.
But first, the Bulldogs (20-5, 9-2 WCC) must deal with BYU (16-11, 6-6) on Saturday night in Spokane, Wash.
Rasir Bolton led four Gonzaga double-figures scorers on Thursday with 23 points and added six assists. Bolton made a putback with seven seconds remaining in a 77-75 victory at San Francisco on Jan. 5.
“I knew I had a big game down there last time,” Bolton said, “so I came out a little more aggressive, and it worked out for me.”
Two-time All-American Drew Timme scored 20 of his 21 points in the first half on Thursday as the Zags built a 60-40 halftime lead.
Timme, who is averaging a career-best 21.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, was named Thursday as one of 10 candidates for the Karl Malone Award, presented annually to the top power forward in college basketball. Timme, also one of 30 players on the Naismith Player of the Year midseason team, won the Malone award in 2021.
“I think this team just does a good job of taking what they give us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I think the best thing we did (Thursday), especially in the first half, was we took great care of the ball. … So, I think that’s probably one of the better things in lieu of where we were at earlier in the year. We had a variety of guys come in and really, really help us.”
Anton Watson added 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Hunter Sallis scored 13 for the Bulldogs, who reached the 20-win plateau for the 26th consecutive season, the second-longest current streak in NCAA Division I behind Kansas’ 32 in a row.
“I think it’s just getting the offense flowing and not getting stagnant,” Watson said. “You can tell they were getting tired on the defensive end, and once we play with that pace, it’s pretty hard to keep up with. I think that led to a lot of open shots.”
Gonzaga has won its past six meetings with BYU, including a 75-74 victory on Jan. 12 in Provo, Utah, when Julian Strawther made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining.
The Cougars are coming off a 92-80 loss to last-place Pepperdine on Thursday in Malibu, Calif.
“It was a continual barrage of some defensive breakdowns,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “We could never right the ship that way. Pepperdine is a talented young team. We knew they’re super capable scoring the ball, and we could not find answers on the defensive end.”
Fousseyni Traore scored a team-high 19 points for BYU, shooting 7 of 10 from the field, and he grabbed six rebounds.
The Cougars fell to 2-4 in WCC road games.
“It’s understanding the mentality, and it comes with experience. Right now, we’re having a tough time winning outside our building,” Pope said. “We have a young group. We don’t have a lot of guys that know what it takes to win on the road.”
–Field Level Media