SPOKANE — Gonzaga struggled offensively against the West Coast Conference’s leading defense in points allowed, as the Bulldogs scored 23 fewer points than their 81.6 season average.
Sam Dower Jr. scored 18 points and Kevin Pangos made the game’s final shot, as Gonzaga narrowly beat San Diego for the 11th straight time, 59-56, on Thursday night.
“We needed to dig deep, really deep,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “San Diego came in here and got that thing at their pace, and made enough big plays to keep it tight and we haven’t had a tight one for a while. We responded by getting a couple of stops down the stretch and made just enough plays on offense to get it done.”
Gonzaga only allowed one Toreros field goal in the final 6 minutes.
Pangos finished with 11 points for Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1 West Coast Conference) and Przemek Karnowski scored eight of the Bulldogs’ final 12 points.
“I thought he (Karnowski) made real strong, forceful moves in there and there was no doubt they were going in,” Few said. “He really stepped up, quite frankly, when we were kind of struggling a little bit on the offensive end.”
Johnny Dee scored 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting for San Diego (11-10, 2-6). Dennis Kramer added 10 points and seven rebounds. Christopher Anderson, averaging 10.6 points per game, finished with six points and missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Pangos ended Gonzaga’s 2-minute-plus scoreless streak with an up-and-under layup for a 59-56 lead with 1:27 left.
The win gave Gonzaga its 33rd win in the last 35 contests against San Diego.
The Toreros have struggled this season in close games, losing six games by a margin of four points or less. San Diego struggled against Gonzaga’s pressure too, making only two field goals in the final 10 minutes.
“We just haven’t made the play or got the stop to win some of these games,” San Diego coach Bill Grier said.
Kyle Dranginis scored the first five points after the intermission as Gonzaga tried to regain its momentum after allowing San Diego to end the first half on a 7-2 run.
Dee and Chris Sarbaugh scored San Diego’s first 11 points of the second half as the Toreros pulled within two.
Gary Bell Jr.’s second basket of the night was a big one, a 3-pointer to push Gonzaga’s lead to 47-42.
But San Diego would not go away quietly.
Dee made two 3-pointers in a little under 3 minutes as San Diego inched closer at 54-50. But the crowd got involved at the 7-minute mark after Karnowski’s rebound and putback.
Dee made three free throws and Kramer’s layup tied the game at 55-all.
Karnowski’s last basket gave the Bulldogs a 57-55 lead.
Both teams went cold down the stretch as Gonzaga missed three straight 3-pointers.
Anderson missed a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, giving Gonzaga the ball back with 48 seconds left. Pangos wound down the clock for Gonzaga but his 3-point attempt rolled off the rim. San Diego pushed the ball past midcourt and called a timeout with 8.4 seconds left, down by three.
But Anderson missed another 3-pointer, while trying to draw a foul from Pangos, and the Bulldogs grabbed the rebound and the win.
The first half was close throughout, too.
Dower scored 10 of Gonzaga’s first 12 points, including two 3-pointers from straight away. San Diego’s defense kept the Toreros in it by not allowing a Gonzaga run of more than five points for the first 10 minutes. Kramer scored six early points, as San Diego tied it up at 17 after Dee’s 3-pointer.
Duda Sanadze’s 3-pointer capped an 8-0 run as San Diego took a 22-17 lead. But Gonzaga responded by scoring the next 14 points, with three consecutive baskets inside the paint, 3s by Dranginis and David Stockton, and a Karnowski hook shot for a 31-22 lead.
San Diego went nearly 7 minutes without a point. Anderson ended the dry spell after he made three free throws after getting fouled from beyond the arc.
Dee’s steal and layup at the buzzer pulled San Diego within 33-29 at halftime.
“I thought there were stretches where we could have really opened that thing up, but a couple of silly decisions; especially at the end of the first half. We ended it with four turnovers,” Few added.
Bell played 11 minutes in the first half, in his first game action since breaking his right hand against Santa Clara on Dec. 28.
It was a homecoming for two Toreros players who played their high school ball in the Spokane area. Now a redshirt sophomore, Sarbaugh played at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane and was a walk-on at Gonzaga before transferring to North Idaho College. Brett Bailey, a freshman, played at University High in Spokane Valley.