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Gonzaga erase deficit for 21st straight win

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Updated 10 months ago on
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MORAGA, Calif. — Gonzaga coach Mark Few suggested Kyle Wiltjer’s 45-point game in Thursday’s victory over Pacific affected him adversely in the early stages of Saturday’s game against St. Mary’s.

“He was pressing,” Few said. “I think that 45-pointer messed with his head.”

Wiltjer denied that was the case, but whatever the problem, Wiltjer scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field in the first half when the Gaels took a 17-point lead.

Wiltjer and the third-ranked Bulldogs settled down in the second half, with Wiltjer scoring eight of his 16 points in the final two minutes of Gonzaga’s 70-60 victory at McKeon Pavilion.

The comeback win extended Gonzaga’s winning streak to a school-record 21 games and clinched an outright regular-season West Coast Conference title with two games to go.

Gonzaga (28-1, 16-0 West Coast Conference) did not take the lead for good until just 1:51 remained, holding the Gaels scoreless for the final 3:01 of the game.

“We played some good minutes,” St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said after the Gaels’ final regular-season home game. “We just didn’t play enough of them.”

St. Mary’s (20-7, 12-4) led by 10 points with 11:05 left but lost a game it desperately needed to have a realistic shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.

“That’s why it’s so tough to take,” Bennett said. “We had chances to close it out and didn’t do it.”

Center Przemek Karnowski and guard Kevin Pangos had 14 points apiece for Gonzaga, and Wiltjer added 12 rebounds to his 16 points.

Center Brad Waldow had 19 points and 11 rebounds and guard Aaron Bright added 17 points for St. Mary’s, which dominated the first half.

“St. Mary’s came out and played lights out,” Few said.

The Gaels hit six of their first seven 3-point shots, and when Bright made a 3-pointer with 4:21 left in the first half, St. Mary’s led 36-19.

The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 11 by halftime, but Few was annoyed at the way his team performed and let the players know about at the intermission.

“They were eager to get lectured at halftime,” Few said. “We just weren’t in the right spots. We weren’t supposed to give them any 3s. We deviated from the game plan. Fortunately, we were able to settle down.”

Gonzaga guard Gary Bell Jr. said, “We knew what we had to do. He just kind of reinforced it.”

The Bulldogs quickly scored the first six points of the second half to reduce the deficit to 40-36 with 18:43 left. A 3-point shot by Wiltjer trimmed the margin to 40-39 two minutes into the second half.

But the Gaels held firm, extending their lead back to 51-41 on forward Desmond Simmons’ 3-point shot with 11:05 remaining.

“I felt we weathered the storm,” Waldow said.

Gonzaga gradually closed the margin again, getting to within one point when Bell made a 3-point shot with 4:41 to play.

Gonzaga took its first lead of the game when Karnowski hit a layup with 3:47 remaining, but Bright made a 3-pointer 13 seconds later to put the Gaels back on top 58-56.

Gonzaga regained the lead when Wiltjer backed in and made a lefty layup with 1:51 left to put the Bulldogs ahead 62-60. Karnowski scored on a layup at 1:00 to make it a four-point lead and Wiltjer followed with six free throws.

“We kind of got back to basics,” Wiltjer said. “When it mattered most, we hunkered down.”

Few said, “I think it shows toughness; I think it shows team-ness. I thought they were the tougher team in the first half, and we were the tougher team in the second half.”

Bennett was not at all satisfied with coming close.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I’m not happy with it. We didn’t do our job defensively, and our shot selection was not good at the end.”

NOTES: Gonzaga had clinched at least a share of the regular-season West Coast Conference title with its 86-74 victory over Pacific on Thursday. The Bulldogs have now won or shared the conference regular-season title 14 of the past 15 seasons. The lone exception was 2012 when Gonzaga finished second to St. Mary’s. Gonzaga

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