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Gonzaga grinds out 69-59 win against San Diego

San Diego’s defense is as stingy as advertised, but the Zags were able to ride their pair of seniors and some big shots from Zach Norvell down the stretch to pull away.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs knew they were going to be in for a gritty, hard-fought game against the San Diego Toreros and were not disappointed in a 69-59 win that secured the 21st consecutive season with 20+ wins for the Zags. In what may be a small consolation for San Diego, it was Gonzaga’s lowest scoring game of the season.

Johnathan Williams led Gonzaga in scoring with 14 points, and the backcourt trio of Zach Norvell (13 points), Silas Melson (12 points), and Josh Perkins (13 points) reached double figures as well. San Diego’s Olin Carter led all scorers with 21 points.

After a quick start in the game’s opening minutes for both squads, the slugfest that everyone was expecting emerged. During the course of a seven minute stretch in the middle of the first half, San Diego’s defense limited Gonzaga to only one made field goal. There were very few seams in the Torero defense to attack off the dribble, and the Zags found it difficult to create space on the perimeter for open looks in the halfcourt offense outside of the rare open shot from loose ball scrambles.

Though Corey Kispert was able to hit a pair of 3’s with some silky shooting, points from the perimeter or off the bounce were generally hard to come by. It was a good thing, then, that the Zags remembered they had the hammer known as Johnathan Williams whom they could use to bludgeon the Torero defense. Because of San Diego’s commitment to locking up the perimeter, Williams found himself with a lot of one-on-one matchups that he hasn’t seen since he was playing alongside Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins.

After shaking off the offensive cold spell, the Zags put together a strong defensive stretch of their own and close out the first half with a 36-27 win that suggested they had found a winning formula.

Gonzaga’s hard-fought nine point lead evaporated quickly at the start of the second half, however, as San Diego converted back-to-back threes on its first two possessions to spark a 13-2 run and take a 40-38 lead just over two minutes into the second half.

The Zags collected themselves out of their defensive disarray and tightened the screws as San Diego was shut out for an eight minute stretch. During that time, the one-two senior punch of Williams and Melson combined for nine points in an 11-0 Gonzaga run that restored its nine-point lead.

With Gonzaga poised to land the knockout punch, the Toreros lifted themselves off the mat with a 7-0 run that was a veritable offensive explosion considering the preceding eight minutes. As the two teams rumbled down the stretch, the Toreros kept the Zags within arm’s reach until a pair of Norvell three-pointers put the nail in the coffin and secured a well-earned win for Gonzaga.

BYU visits the Kennel next on Saturday as Gonzaga looks to stay within a game of Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC regular season title.