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Gonzaga Bulldogs lick their wounds as they prepare for USF

SAN FRANCISCO – The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ narrow win over Santa Clara was barely in the books on Thursday when coach Mark Few hit on two key points for Saturday’s date with San Francisco.

“Nothing is going to be easy on the road,” said Few, standing perhaps 10 feet away from senior forward Kyle Wiltjer sprawled out on a training table. “We need to heal up. We’ve got a couple more hours of rest (due to Thursday’s 2 p.m. tip).”

Gonzaga (11-3, 3-0 WCC), which shares first place with Saint Mary’s, has won five straight. In that span, the Zags are averaging 87 points, shooting 53.4 percent from the field, 47 percent beyond the arc, 80 percent at the free-throw line (with two intentional misses) and committing just 8.4 turnovers. Guards Josh Perkins, who had 26 points and four assists against the Broncos, and Eric McClellan have made steady improvement.

But there were a couple of hold-your-breath moments Thursday when Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were shaken up. With center Przemek Karnowski’s season-ending back surgery, Gonzaga is down to eight scholarship players: three bigs for two spots and five guards for three spots.

Sabonis played on after tweaking his ankle. He logged 34 minutes and made 4 of 9 shots, just his third sub-50 percent shooting game of the season. He said he’ll play against San Francisco.

Wiltjer had 20 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes, limping off the floor in the closing seconds with a foot issue. He said he “rolled it kind of funny” and anticipated a visit to the doctor.

Sophomore center Ryan Edwards played five minutes.

Few said his players were “just exhausted” on Dec. 23 after a three-game, five-day stretch, so he gave them an extra day off over the holiday break.

“We lost a little bit of our rhythm and it looks like we lost our feet defensively a little bit (against Santa Clara),” he said, “but we needed the rest.”

The Dons (8-5, 2-1) outscored Portland 41-14 in the final 13 minutes of a 107-95 win Thursday – USF’s first time over 100 since 2011. Guards Tim Derksen, Devin Watson and Ronnie Boyce combined for 64 points. Derksen and Watson entered the week as the WCC’s highest scoring backcourt tandem at 33.5 points.

“Their guards are playing great, getting a lot of shots and opportunities,” Few said. “Much like (Santa Clara), I’m sure their other guys will be amped for the challenge.”

Gonzaga has won three straight at War Memorial Gym after dropping three in a row from 2010-12.

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