It was a battle in the Kennel as the Gonzaga Bulldogs took on the University of San Francisco Dons for the second time this season. After a difficult first half for the Zags, they fought back to win 71-54.
The last time the two teams met, the Zags won by four points in San Francisco. After trailing in the first half by nine, the team was able to rebound and secure the win.
“That’s about as poorly as we’ve ever played on the offensive end in the first half tonight,” said Mark Few, head coach of the Zags. “But for long stretches, even in the first half, I thought we played great defense. I thought we were spectacular on the defensive end in the second half.”
The Zags had a rough first half after trailing the Dons for 12 minutes going into halftime, as the Dons outscored the Zags 18-6 in that span.
“We were not who we were,” Few said. “We were doing things I hadn’t seen in practice or all year. We were just really not doing the things that led to us being so successful this year. Trying to make tough passes, we weren’t slowing down and catching the ball first, we weren’t finishing strong at the end.”
Even with SFU senior center Jimbo Lull off the floor due to early foul trouble, the Dons managed to keep the lead over the Zags, shooting 41.7% from 3 and 33.3% from the field during the first half.
Turnovers were also a big issue for the Zags. The Dons were able to get four turnovers out of them and cause a 10-0 scoring run over the course of 3.5 minutes extending their lead.
The Zags turned the ball over eight times in the first half and went back and forth with the Dons.
“[At halftime] I told them we needed to just be us,” Few said. “That wasn’t who we were. They were doing things I had never seen in practice and they were not doing the things that made us successful this year.”
Immediately after the second half began, junior forward Corey Kispert stole the ball from the Dons, resulting in a bucket from sophomore forward Filip Petrusev, initiating a scoring run that would eventually lead to their victory.
On the following play, the Zags stole the ball again, leading to a dunk from senior forward Killian Tillie, cutting the lead for the Dons to 31-26.
“I think it was all the plays we made on defense,” Kispert said. “Obviously, Killian’s dunks and transition 3s and things like that are all products of the defense. We held them to four points in the first eight minutes or something like that so that sparked our run as much as the offense did.”
After finding their momentum, Petrusev made a layup that led to the Zags first lead since the first few minutes of the first half, a lead that would grow to their 17-point victory.
“We just took our time and I thought we were really rushing in the first half and in the second half was good, defense was good in both halves,” Petrusev said. “I think that’s what kept us in the first half and then once we got offense going in the second.”
The night ended with four players scoring in the double digits: Tillie with 22, Petrusev with 16, redshirt senior guard Ryan Woolridge with 12 and Kispert with 11.
This game was the first back for Tillie after facing another injury and missing the game against Pepperdine last Saturday. He was named player of the game.
“[Tillie’s] hardly practiced at all in the last month and he’s been able to come out and deliver and play a high-level game,” Few said.
Overall, the Zags now have another win making them 13-0 in conference play and 27-1 on the season.
They will face BYU for the second time on Saturday in Provo, Utah, for a top 25 matchup – which will be another tough game for the Zags.
“Everyone’s knock on us is that we don’t play anybody, and we don’t play any close games and don’t know how to win down the stretch,” Kispert said. “But we’re getting experience every day playing against really good and improved teams in our conference now. Whether it’s roster changes or flat first halves, whatever it is, any kind of adversity is good for us.”