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Analysis: Pacific can’t contain Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura in 86-66 victory

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 28, 2019

Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura (21) drives the ball against Pacific's Jeremiah Bailey during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Stockton, Calif. (Ben Margot / AP)
Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura (21) drives the ball against Pacific's Jeremiah Bailey during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Stockton, Calif. (Ben Margot / AP)

STOCKTON, Calif. – Back on Jan. 10, Pacific did the best defensive job by any Gonzaga opponent this season containing the dynamic duo of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke.

It didn’t happen a second time.

The Zags’ talented tandem dominated at both ends of the court, combining for 48 points and 19 rebounds as top-ranked Gonzaga handled the Tigers 86-66 on Thursday night at the Spanos Center.

It was pretty much a rerun of the earlier meeting, except Hachimura and Clarke did most of the heavy lifting for the No. 1 Zags (28-2, 15-0 West Coast Conference). They combined for a season-low 20 points in the first meeting.

“We were trying to be strong in the post with our shots, trying not to get bumped out of position,” Clarke said. “That’s something we’ve worked on a lot in the past month.”

Meanwhile, the Tigers, who scored just 36 points in a 31-point loss in Spokane, suffered through a rugged first half on offense, connecting on just six field goals, four finding the net as the buzzer sounded on the shot clock. Clarke had three blocks in the first half and finished with four, though he appeared to get his hand on at least one more shot.

“It’s not only (the blocks), there were some vertical contests in there, just making it hard for guys when they get going downhill against us,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “Obviously, the block is not only a great defensive play, but all year it’s been something that has ignited our break to get us out in transition.”

Hachimura and Clarke scored GU’s first three baskets, but the Tigers still held a 10-6 advantage early. Gonzaga owned the remainder of the half. It started with Josh Perkins’ 3-pointer. Geno Crandall added four points off a pair of steals as the Zags took the lead with an 11-0 spurt.

Gonzaga sandwiched three 7-0 runs around three Pacific field goals – a pair of 3s and a tough scoop layup – all just before time ran out on the shot clock.

Hachimura and Clarke combined for 26 first-half points as the Zags stretched their lead to 39-20 at halftime.

“The reality of it is we had to take tough shots, and they were taking easy shots,” Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire said. “It’s going to be tough to be the team taking tough, contested 2s and 3s, and they’re getting layups and wide-open shots.”

The Tigers (13-17, 3-12) shot 23 percent in the opening half, but they had some success in the closing 20 minutes, led by an inspired effort from guard Roberto Gallinat on Senior Night. He joined Anthony Townes as the two seniors honored during pregame festivities.

Gallinat, who scored had 31 points in his previous outing and 41 against San Francisco last season, hit a pair of rainbow 3-pointers early in the half, but the Tigers couldn’t make up ground. Gonzaga made nine of its first 13 field-goal attempts in the second half to open up a 24-point lead.

“I thought for the most part, our defense won the first half and our offense won the second half,” Few said.

Clarke swatted Khy Kabellis near the rim – thought it wasn’t recorded as a block in the official stats – on Pacific’s first possession of the second half, leading to a Zach Norvell Jr. layup at the other end. The basket boosted Gonzaga’s lead to 43-20 and prompted a quick timeout from Stoudamire.

“People say that defense is the best offense,” Clarke said. “I really feel like that’s true when I can block shots.”

Gonzaga’s lead was still 24 after Corey Kispert’s 3-pointer with 16:30 left and Hachimura’s dunk with 12:10 remaining.

The Tigers kept battling, cutting the deficit to 19 on a couple of occasions. Norvell capped a fast break with a dunk and Hachimura hit two free throws, extending Gonzaga’s lead to 21. Hachimura reeled in a long pass from Crandall for a layup, and a pair of Norvell free throws gave the Zags a 25-point advantage.

Hachimura ended up with 27 points. Clarke had 21 points and 13 rebounds. Norvell added 12 points and Crandall added 10. Gonzaga’s largest lead was 26. Gallinat finished with four 3-pointers and 23 points. The Tigers shot 47.2 percent in the second half but couldn’t keep up with Gonzaga, which hit 63.3 percent in the second half and 60 percent overall.

The Zags aim for their fifth unbeaten conference season in Few’s 20 years against second-place Saint Mary’s (20-10, 11-4) in the regular-season finale Saturday night in Moraga, California.

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