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Analysis: Filip Petrusev shakes off ankle injury, helps Gonzaga rout Pacific 92-59

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 25, 2020

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Filip Petrusev scores on a layup during the first half of  Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Filip Petrusev scores on a layup during the first half of Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The first half was roughly 12 minutes old and Pacific was shooting 55.6% from the field.

The Tigers still trailed by 11 points.

Second-ranked Gonzaga put on another offensive clinic, and its defense improved as the game went on – more than enough to thump Pacific 92-59 Saturday in front of a full house of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

A lot of that first-half damage was provided by Filip Petrusev, who shook off a sprained ankle from last Saturday’s win over BYU to put up 15 points and six rebounds, just a fraction under his season averages.

Petrusev played 20 minutes, the fewest of anyone in Gonzaga’s seven-man rotation.

“He showed a lot of toughness,” coach Mark Few said of Petrusev. “Those ankle sprains are not easy to come back from. I don’t think he practiced until light on Thursday, and then he went pretty good (Friday).

“And then to throw him into a game like this, Pacific has three legitimate bigs that can really come at you. I thought he responded really well.”

Petrusev, who drew eight fouls from physical defenders, said if the game had been Thursday he wasn’t sure he would have played. Once he was able to get some practice time in, he knew he’d be ready.

“It’s still a little weaker than the other foot,” said Petrusev, who scored two of GU’s first three baskets. “I was just trying to be aggressive and not think about it because if you’re scared, you’re more likely to do something again.”

The Zags (21-1, 7-0 West Coast Conference) posted their 13th straight win and have a two-game cushion over Saint Mary’s.

Gonzaga visits the Bay Area next week to face Santa Clara and San Francisco.

The Zags manhandled Pacific (15-8, 3-4) in the paint, applied foul pressure – not that they fully cashed in by hitting just 17 of 29 – and added nine 3-pointers for good measure. By now, that should look familiar with GU leading the nation in scoring (88.9 points).

Killian Tillie and Drew Timme each swatted four shots as the Tigers managed just 22 paint points compared to Gonzaga’s 42.

Six Zags reached double figures, led by Tillie’s 22. Gonzaga hit 64.5% from the field in the first half and was hovering near 60 percent until the closing minutes.

“That’s kind of who we are, man, we’re balanced,” Few said. “I know we don’t have just one guy we’re going to go to. They understand that and have complete buy-in and really enjoy moving it around and finding each other.

“Even if somebody has maybe a slow half where there wasn’t a lot of opportunities, I never feel like they’re pressing.”

Petrusev might not have been at full speed, but he was his usual dominating presence inside. He hit 5 of 7 shots and scored 12 points in the opening half.

In one sequence he bumped into 6-foot-9, 304-pound Amari McCray a couple of times to create space for a left-handed jump hook. He also led the break on one play, dribbling into the frontcourt before passing the ball out front when outnumbered by Pacific’s defense.

Tillie hit a pair of 3-pointers, a couple of soft-touch jump hooks and drove past McCray for a dunk. He had 17 points at intermission as Gonzaga led 48-33.

Tillie has had consecutive 22-point games and four 20-pointers in the last seven. He’s playing like a senior who wants to make the most of the dwindling number of games on the regular-season schedule.

“Travis Knight (assistant strength and conditioning coach) told me that in warmups,” Tillie said. “It’s not a lot of games left in the Kennel (four), so man, it’s kind of scary.”

Gonzaga’s defense wasn’t sharp in the first half, but it didn’t keep the Zags from building a comfortable lead. Pacific hit 50% from the field, led by Jahlil Tripp’s 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

That changed in the second half. The Zags switched from having bigs guard Tripp to using Corey Kispert or Admon Gilder. The bigs were waiting near the rim when Tripp penetrated.

Nine of GU’s 10 blocks came in the closing half. Tripp made just one field goal, and the Tigers’ shooting percentage plunged to 23.5%.

“We kind of dictated what he was going to do rather than the other way around,” said Kispert, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds. “We matched up a little smaller in second half and I think that gave him fits. He was able to dance around and be comfortable in ball screens and isolations in first half. We were able to disrupt him.”

Gonzaga, which finished with just seven turnovers, has scored at least 90 points in 12 games.

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