War Memorial Gymnasium at the University of San Francisco was not kind to the Zags in the first years of this decade. Gonzaga lost on three straight trips to The Hilltop in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Things have changed a little bit since then, namely that the Zags have gotten a lot better. But that didn't stop the Dons from trying to turn back the clock and pick up the biggest upset in program history. As was the case on Thursday in Santa Clara, the Zags did not hold a lead at halftime. As was the case on Thursday in Santa Clara, the team ranked second in the polls would hold the lead at the only time it matters, at the buzzer.
Kruize Pinkins (15.2 ppg) came off the bench for the first time this season, a last minute coaches decision according to the ESPN TV crew. Rex Walters didn't keep his leading scorer off the bench for long, making him the first USF substitution of the game.
Pinkins presence in the paint would have been badly missed against Gonzaga's deep and talented frontcourt.
Or maybe not, because Przemek Karnowski played just seven first half minutes due to foul trouble. And the Dons used a barrage of threes, by their standards, to hang with Gonzaga.
The stout defense of the Zags was nowhere to be found tonight. San Francisco shot 50% and scored 1.129 points per possession tonight — the most points per possession scored against the Zags all season. The final box score is impressive, but the Dons were even more impressive in the first half.
Mark Tollefsen scored 11 points in the first half on 4-4 shooting and going 2-2 from the free throw line. The only Dons who didn't shoot well in the first half were Devin Watson, 2-7, and Tim Derksen 1-5.
It was Derksen who opened the second half with a lay-up to give the Dons their first lead of the game.
Kevin Pangos answered with a three, but the Dons kept responding with threes of their own to either reclaim the lead or move into a tie.
Several minutes into the second half Mark Few had his Zags switch into a zone defense. The change flustered the Dons, but it took a while before Gonzaga was able to gain momentum as a result.
Three charge calls on Gonzaga, faster than you could read the block/charge section of the rule book, kept the Zags from opening up their lead. Gonzaga was called for four charges in the second half.
Finally the Zags managed to pull out to a mutli-possession lead, but the Dons wouldn't go away quietly. They shot over the zone, knocking down four three pointers in the final ten minutes. However, they made just one other shot and managed only ten attempts over the final ten minutes.
The final of those threes came via Mark Tollefsen with just over a minute-and-a-half to play. It cut the Zags lead to five points. Unfortunately for the Dons' comeback hopes, Matt Glover and Kevin Pangos got tangled up positioning for a rebound on the Tollefsen three. Glover pushed Pangos in the back. The officials went to the replay monitor and assessed a dead ball technical on Glover.
Kevin Panogs knocked down both ensuing free throws, the Zags got the ball back and put the game on ice.
At 24-1 (12-0) on the season the Zags continue to pace the nation in the win column, one win up on 23-0 Kentucky.