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Analysis: Gonzaga withstands early Pacific push, turns up defensive pressure in rout

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 10, 2019, 11:10 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke  dribbles downcourt during the second half Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke dribbles downcourt during the second half Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Pacific was doing what it could to keep it competitive and frustrate Gonzaga.

The Tigers ran time off the shot clock, hit just enough shots and did a nice job of clamping down on Gonzaga’s inside game.

Nearly 8 minutes in, the Tigers were at the free-throw line with a chance to take the lead. They missed.

About a minute later, Pacific committed its first turnover on a pass near midcourt that ricocheted off Jeremiah Bailey’s foot and zipped out of bounds, looking more like a shot on goal in soccer.

The Tigers committed 13 more turnovers before the half ended, jump-starting Gonzaga’s offense and sending the fifth-ranked Zags on their way to a 67-36 victory in front of 6,000 Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

It was the lowest point total GU has held an opponent to since San Diego scored 31 in February 2011.

The Zags (15-2, 2-0 WCC) won their sixth straight heading into Saturday’s first-place showdown at San Francisco (14-2, 2-0). It wasn’t pretty, but Gonzaga’s defense and an offense that played better as the game progressed made it look nearly as lopsided as the previous five, won by an average of 43.6 points.

Pacific defenders, often giving away 2 to 3 inches in the paint, successfully clogged the lane early against Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. Gonzaga settled for 3-point shots early, but Zach Norvell Jr. was about the only one connecting. He hit a pair, but Roberto Gallinat answered with two for the Tigers.

“We haven’t had anybody this year come in here and take the air out of the ball, and lessen the possessions of a game,” coach Mark Few said. “We were patient on defense and on offense. We ended up with one of our lowest, if not the lowest, DERs (defensive efficiency rating) of the year.”

Pacific’s defense couldn’t withstand the parade of turnovers, the first coming with 10:49 left in the half. Name the turnover and the Tigers probably committed it.

Gallinat lost control of his dribble and the ball bounced off his head and into Gonzaga’s bench. Lafayette Dorsey dribbled into the paint with the shot clock about to expire and fumbled the ball across the base line.

Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert appeared to force another Tigers turnover but the call was overturned by a second official, who instead called Kispert for a foul.

The Tigers traveled a couple of times. The Zags’ press, which they’ve employed often in the last 5-6 games, forced over-and-back and 10-second violations. Gallinat plowed over Geno Crandall for a charging foul as the Tigers stuck to their game plan of working the clock instead of trying for a two-for-one at the end of the half.

Pacific had 14 turnovers on its final 19 possessions, and many turned into GU points at the other end. Norvell’s layup and a Josh Perkins 3-pointer – both after Pacific turnovers – started a 12-0 run as the Tigers endured a 6-minute, 23-second dry spell.

Gonzaga’s bigs got more involved in another 12-0 spurt. Clarke and Hachimura had easy buckets off lob passes from Perkins. Hachimura capped it with a steal and dunk as Gonzaga took command 32-13.

“Early we were pushing the pace trying to get them to our tempo, then we figured out what they were doing,” Perkins said. “We slowed up and got great team shots and extended the lead.”

The Zags led 34-15 at half, the third opponent they’ve held under 20 points in the opening half in the last six games.

Pacific was within 21 in the second half until running into another scoring drought. This one lasted just more than 7 minutes, and the Zags took advantage to build a 61-27 lead.

Gonzaga had its lowest point total of the season, but some of that was a reflection of Pacific’s patience at the offensive end.

“You can’t panic and jump out trying to make something happen,” Few said. “We knew they were missing shots. We really only had to defend that last 6 or 8 seconds of every possession, so we had to be really solid there.”

The Zags made 43.4 percent of their shots, cooling off late when the issue had been decided. Perkins finished with 14 points and six assists. Norvell added 11 points and six rebounds. Clarke had 10 points, eight boards and five blocks. Hachimura had a season-low 10 points, but made 4 of 6 shots.

Gallinat, who came in averaging 15.3 points, finished with nine points. No other Tiger scored more than six points. Pacific made just 26.7 percent from the field.

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