GONZAGA

No. 17 Zags beat SF 89-77, extending WCC final streak to 27 years

Mar 11, 2024, 11:07 PM | Updated: Mar 12, 2024, 1:04 am

Gonzaga Dusty Stromer WCC Tournament...

Dusty Stromer of the Gonzaga Bulldogs slaps on the bracket sticker beating San Francisco. (David Becker/Getty Images)

(David Becker/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nolan Hickman scored 20 points and No. 17 Gonzaga pulled away in the second half to beat San Francisco 89-77 on Monday night and extend its streak to 27 years of making the West Coast Conference Tournament title game.

Gonzaga Bulldogs 89, San Francisco Dons 77: Box score

The Bulldogs will play No. 21 Saint Mary’s on Tuesday night for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, though the loser will make the 68-team field as an at-large team.

All five Gonzaga starters scored in double figures. Ben Gregg and Anton Watson each scored 17 points, and Ryan Nembhard had 16.

College Hoops Guide: Keep up with WSU, Zags and more in conference tourneys

Gregg was especially hot in the second half. After scoring three points in the first half and missing all three 3-pointers, he made all four from long range after halftime and scored 14 points.

His teammates “gave me all the confidence in the world to keep on shooting it,” Gregg said. “So I let it fly and finally made a couple and it was a good feeling.”

Malik Thomas led USF (23-10) with 22 points, and Marcus Williams scored 17.

“This is not what we signed up for,” Dons coach Chris Gerlufsen said of the loss. “I’m super proud of my team, though, the things they’ve done for our program this year. They’re not even cognizant of that, which is fine. By myself and our staff, just incredibly grateful to be their coach.”

Gonzaga will make its 30th appearance in the conference championship game and go for its 22nd title, fifth in a row and 11th in 12 years. Only Saint Mary’s in 2019 interrupted the run.

The Zags (25-6) also extended their national record of consecutive 25-win seasons to 17.

They have won nine straight games this season and 14 of 15, quieting the early talk of what was wrong with a program that has advanced to at least the Sweet 16 of every NCAA Tournament since 2015.

Coach Mark Few said a number of factors led to the early start in which Gonzaga lost three games in December — a tough Maui Invitational field, incorporating a mix of new players into the lineup and learning to play without Drew Timme, last season’s WCC player of the year.

“I think what was a little bit underrated was how much change,” Few said. “We lost an icon of a player in Drew Timme in more ways than one. Just the swag he had carried us through a lot of moments, so we had to figure out ways not only offensively, but defensively.”

The numbers back up that the Bulldogs remain a dangerous team. Gonzaga entered this game leading the WCC in field goal percentage, scoring margin, scoring, blocked shots and assists. The Bulldogs were in the top six nationally in three of those categories.

See where Gonzaga, WSU are in last AP top 25 before Selection Sunday

The Dons, however, put up a fight early. They took a 35-27 lead late in the first half before Gonzaga roared back with an 11-point run. Jonathan Mogbo’s bucket at the buzzer brought USF within a point at halftime.

Gregg’s 3-point shooting helped Gonzaga separate itself in the second half. The Bulldogs’ 12-2 run put them up 63-47 with 13:35 remaining, and there was little mystery in the outcome after that.

Gonzaga has taken the drama out of this series in general, having beaten the Dons 30 consecutive times, including three times this season.

BIG PICTURE

USF: Gerlufsen said he played the percentages by focusing his defense on Gonzaga big man Graham Ike. The strategy worked to a degree. Ike entered the game averaging 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, but was held to 10 and four. The problem for the Dons is Gonzaga’s shooters stepped up to make 11 of 20 3-pointers, the Bulldogs’ third-highest total this season.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are a six-seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but a victory over Saint Mary’s can buttress their hopes for a higher position. Gonzaga has a good case. The NCAA’s NET rankings places the Zags at No. 16, and they’re 15th in Kenpom.

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No. 17 Zags beat SF 89-77, extending WCC final streak to 27 years