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Gonzaga wins WCC opener 81-48 with strong second half

The 22nd consecutive conference opening win is in the books.

NCAA Basketball: Pacific at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs used a dominant second half to crush the Pacific Tigers 81-48 in the opening game of the WCC Conference Schedule. The win was Gonzaga’s 22nd consecutive conference opening victory.

Rui Hachimura led all scorers with 19 points, and he was joined by Josh Perkins (16 pts), Zach Norvell (13 pts), and Corey Kispert (12 pts) in double figures. It was a quiet evening on the offensive end for Johnathan Williams (2 pts, 1-6 FG) but he made his presence felt at the other end of the floor. Gonzaga’s strong defensive effort prevented the Tigers from having a single player score in double figures.

Pacific drew first blood, running out to a 6-0 run before Gonzaga started to gain a foothold in the game. Gonzaga’s versatility was on display as its first four baskets were scored by four different players.

The Tigers’ hot start failed to sustain itself over the course of the first half, however, as Gonzaga’s defense began to clamp down. Johnathan Williams picked up three blocks in the first four minutes and the rest of the squad chipped in four more over the course of the first half.

The biggest aid to Gonzaga’s defense, however, was a reduction in the turnovers that have plagued the team for much of the season. The Zags finished the game with only seven turnovers (second lowest total of the season) which severely limited Pacific’s opportunities to get easy baskets in transition.

After the first media timeout, Rui Hachimura and Corey Kispert took the floor for Tillie and Melson to form a lineup combination we haven’t seen much of this season. The combo was effective as the Zags reeled off a 14-2 run that included a personal 8-0 run from Josh Perkins. The coaching staff didn’t stop there, however, digging deeper into the bench to give Jesse Wade a rare opportunity to play non-garbage time minutes.

Despite the outburst, Gonzaga’s offense found it difficult to build on the lead and gain some separation. The game stumbled into a disjointed affair, with neither team able to capitalize on the other’s offensive ineptitude. Both teams struggled to find any continuity with the ball and halftime arrived with an unflattering scoreline of 31-21 in favor of the Bulldogs. At the break, Pacific was shooting 28.6% (8-28) from the field, but the Zags weren’t faring much better at a 37.5% (12-32) clip.

The early stages of the second half did not do much to suggest that an offensive masterclass was on the horizon. Pacific finally made its first three-pointer of the game with 17 minutes left in the contest, but continued to struggle inside against Gonzaga’s length. The Zags must have been asked to build Donald Trump’s wall, because the amount of bricks they tossed up from the arc would have been enough to close off the northern and southern borders.

While the second half was bereft of high-quality offense, we did get to see Gonzaga pull off the rare 5-point possession thanks to an ill-advised flagrant foul that sent Norvell to the free throw line after he got mugged in transition by Miles Reynolds. After Norvell sank both freebies, Perkins twisted the knife with a three-ball from the left wing that extended Gonzaga’s lead to 52-37. On the next few possessions, Melson and Tillie sank threes of their own and the rout was finally on (wall construction will have to be suspended).

The rest of the game played out without issue, with a Perkins no-look pass to a wide open Kispert underneath the rim serving as the highlight of the second half (along with manager-turned-walkon Brian Pete making his debut).

While the blowout win was good to see, the return to health of Kispert is the most significant takeaway from this game. After limited minutes and movement over the last four weeks, and some rusty shooting for the first 30 or so minutes of this game, pre-injury Kispert began to reappear. Hopefully, he’s here to stay for the rest of the season.