SAN DIEGO (AP) — Gonzaga coach Mark Few stared at the box score after beating the University of San Diego and shook his head.
“Nothing really jumps out at you,” Few said. “It was an even game but we hung with it.”
Killian Tillie scored 17 points and Rui Hachimura added 16 in No. 6 Gonzaga’s 77-72 victory on Thursday night that clinched at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.
“A lot of people wrote us off to win the league after we dropped that early one at home to Saint Mary’s,” Few said. “So I had to ask the players, ‘How bad did they want it?'”
The Bulldogs (26-4, 16-1 WCC) defeated the Toreros (17-12, 8-9) for the eighth straight game and for the 19th time in their last 20 meetings.
Olin Cater III led San Diego with 21 points.
After trailing at halftime and falling behind by eight points in the second half, the Bulldogs didn’t seize the lead until midway through the second half, when Tillie’s 3-pointer made it 52-51.
It was a back-and-forth affair from there, with the Toreros relying on their stingy defense to slow the up-tempo Bulldogs. In the game’s final three minutes, San Diego was down by just three points on three occasions.
But Gonzaga had too much firepower and was helped by four straight free throws from Hachimura when taking the lead for good with four minutes remaining.
“Things were not going great for us,” Few said. “They hit some crazy shots and came out and played inspired on both ends and made some plays. But we were really, really good down the stretch.”
The Toreros are known for their defense but it was the Bulldogs holding San Diego without a field goal over a six-minute stretch late in the game that was the difference. Few went to his bigger lineup with Tillie, Hachimura and Johnathan Williams and it paid off.
“It was great the coaches had confidence in us to get it done down low,” said Williams, who scored seven points after being slowed by a sprained ankle in the first half. “But you have to give everyone credit because it was definitely a team effort because we got all those stops as a team.”
San Diego coach Lamont Smith wasn’t interested in hearing how his squad played the Bulldogs close for the second time this season.
“We’ve got to get over the hump,” Smith said. “I’m really proud of our guys but there are no moral victories.”
Gonzaga demolished San Diego in last year’s visit by 58 points. The Bulldogs built an early six-point lead in this one but San Diego rebounded , tying the score at 27 with five minutes left on the first of three straight 3-point baskets by Carter. When he hit his second one, San Diego had a three-point advantage, its first edge since the game’s opening bucket.
Tyler Williams’ mid-range jumper gave San Diego a 35-30 lead and it was 37-34 at halftime. San Diego finished the first 20 minutes by converting 4 of 7 3-point shots.
But San Diego struggled in the second half, going 11 of 32 (34 percent) from the field and 3 of 14 (21 percent) on 3-pointers.
“We’ve had our share of these types of games,” Few said. “This season hasn’t been easy for us. But you try to draw positives from that. We were down, but we buckled down and played pretty efficiently down the stretch.”
Gonzaga: When Gonzaga fell behind early in the game, it was the first time it had trailed in four games. … The Bulldogs have earned at least a share of the WCC title in 17 of the past 18 seasons and 18 of the last 20. … Gonzaga is the only team in the nation with seven players to score at least 20 points in a game this season.
University of San Diego: The highest-ranked team the Toreros have beaten is No. 14 UCLA in the 2002-03 season. … Forward Cameron Neubauer was honored before the game on senior night.
Gonzaga is at BYU on Saturday night.
San Diego is at San Francisco on Saturday night.