MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s strategy to push the ball inside was effective for No. 23 Bulldogs — until the final few minutes.
Down the stretch, 24th-ranked Memphis turned up the defense against the Zags’ big men, reeled off the final 10 points of the game and defeated Gonzaga 60-54 on Saturday night.
Sam Dower led Gonzaga (21-4) with 18 points and eight rebounds, shooting 9 of 12 from the field. Przemek Karnowski and Gerard Coleman had 12 points apiece. The Bulldogs held a nine-point lead — 52-43 — with 5:15 left, but couldn’t stop Memphis’ last push.
Memphis struggled with Gonzaga’s inside game until the middle stages of the second half. The 7-foot-1 Karnowski used his height advantage to get post position on the smaller Memphis frontline.
“That’s where we had most of our success,” Few said of the Zags post play. “(Memphis) amped it up some, fronted a little harder and made the entry passes a little harder.”
Down the stretch, Memphis got to the basket and the free throw line with its quick senior guards. Gonzaga led 54-50 with 3:16 left when Kevin Pangos connected from 15 feet. But the Zags did not score again, and Dixon had six points in the final 4 minutes for Memphis.
“We had to grind it out,” Pastner said. “This was a grind it out game.”
In the end it was Pastner’s strategy that worked out, although it seemed at first suspect. Memphis was willing to let Gonzaga’s score inside, but wanted to make the 3-pointer difficult for the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country at 42 percent, was 2 of 16 from outside the arc. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga’s leading scorer at 15.3 points a game, was limited to seven points, and was 1 for 7 from 3-point range.
“We kept staying with the game plan. We did not relax,” Pastner said. “We just said: ‘Hey, this is what we are doing, and if they beat us, they’re going to beat us with twos.’”
Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon Jr. both had 11 points for Memphis. Shaq Goodwin and Joe Jackson had 10 points each for Memphis, which has won six of seven. Goodwin had eight rebounds and three blocks as Memphis controlled the boards 44-28.
“They are big, athletic and strong,” Few said. “Guys that just went in and got the ball better than we did. We’re better than that.”
Gonzaga’s lead would stretch to a dozen in the second half.
Memphis chipped away at the advantage, cutting it to 44-42 with 8:16 left, but that wasn’t enough as Gonzaga kept the lead, stretching it back to nine. Memphis got to 52-50 on Dixon’s drive at the under 4-minute timeout.
It wasn’t until another drive by Dixon with 1:11 left that the Tigers took the lead. That was part of winning stretch for the Tigers, who ended Gonzaga’s seven-game winning streak.
“We just didn’t execute and didn’t do a good job making plays,” Mark Few said of the stretch performance.