Coach Few and the Zags (22-0, 13-0) coaching staff were dripping but the Bulldogs weren’t tripping, handing the USD Toreros a 106-69 loss Saturday night in the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Few and his compatriots donned stark red polos and quarter zips as they coached the No. 1 team in the nation to their 25th straight victory dating back to last season, the longest in the nation.
The Zags are fresh off a dominant win against traditional WCC rival St. Mary’s on Thursday and looked to continue their dominance against the Toreros. The last time the two squads faced off, Gonzaga claimed a 90-62 win to give them their 20th win of the season. Although the final score may indicate a lopsided margin, USD hung with the Zags throughout the first half of their prior matchup, only trailing by 11 at halftime thanks to a barrage of three pointers.
The Toreros looked to keep pace with the Bulldogs through a similar strategy, but the GU defense had different plans. From the tip Gonzaga made the lives of Torero ballhandlers difficult after coming out in a 1-2-2 full court press.
On the third possession of the game the Zags forced a backcourt violation and set the tone for the evening. They finished the half with eight steals and an innumerable number of tipped passes and altered shots thanks to their active hands. The Toreros were driven off the three-point line and couldn’t get clean looks in the lane as the Zags showed their defensive fortitude.
“We were able to knock some balls loose and if nothing less than that pressure them out of the normal offensive operating areas,” Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few said. “Our defense was good up until the last five minutes when we subbed pretty liberally.”
Despite a lackluster and uncharacteristic zero field goals from three-point range in the first half, the Zags raced out to 51 points with Drew Timme dropping 17 points and six rebounds in the opening frame while Suggs and Kispert also contributed double figures.
“[Timme] has great footwork, great hands, he has a variety of ways to score. He’s hard to double because he doesn’t score in conventional ways,” Few said.
The unsung hero of the first half was senior transfer Aaron Cook. The scrappy guard tracked USD ballhandlers waslike a hawk, forcing steals, drawing charges, and buying up real-estate in the Toreros heads.
USD was coming off a 78-70 win against WCC No. 10 University of Portland before traveling to Spokane.
The Zags came out in the second half determined to fend off complacency up 29 points. Timme corralled a defensive rebound and initiated the break for a sequence where the ball didn’t touch the floor en route to the first three of the game for GU from Andrew Nembhard in the corner.
Kispert took over the contest by driving to the rim with an array of crafty finishes and free throws to give the consummate Zag 16 points and 8 rebounds on the night.
“Corey is the epitome of a college athlete. He’s an ambassador for our program, our school, and college athletics in general,” Few said. “He’s an incredible player who’s played himself into being a high pick in the draft. He’s like the poster child for Gonzaga basketball.”
Aaron Cook continued his pesky ways in the second half, this time on the offensive end. Cook drove baseline off an out of bounds play and hammered home a two-handed dunk in traffic to get a rise out of the bench. Less than a minute later, Cook took a steal at midcourt and flushed a left-handed jam on USD’s Ben Pyle for the hoop and the harm to make the bench go ballistic.
“[The reaction] shows how much love there is for him on the team. It shows you how much they care about AC,” Few said. “Those were two pretty impressive athletic plays from a guy that isn’t any taller than six foot.”
With the game in hand, Few emptied his bench as every rostered player received playing time. Pavel Zakharov nailed a three-pointer and Dominick Harris splashed two deep triples of his own as the Zags closed out the game to win 106-69 for their 23rd victory of the campaign.
USD will look to recoup before their next game against Pacific as the WCC tournament looms for a squad currently tied for the seventh in the conference.
The Zags will have some time off before taking the floor at home against Santa Clara next Thursday. The game will be broadcast on CBSSN at 4 p.m. Pacific time.