SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga have fought some epic basketball battles in recent years. And for 25 minutes Thursday night, it appeared this might be another.
But Gonzaga’s defense clamped down and the No. 3 Bulldogs went on a 22-2 run to blow open a close game and cruise to a 68-47 victory that gave them sole possession of first place in the West Coast Conference.
“We hung with it and hung with it and hung with it, and eventually the dam broke,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Our defense got better and better as the game went on.”
Kevin Pangos scored 14 points, Przemek Karnowski added 12 and Kyle Wiltjer 11 for Gonzaga (19-1, 8-0 West Coast), whose only loss this year is at No. 7 Arizona. This is the best start in program history.
Brad Waldow scored 14 points to lead Saint Mary’s (15-4, 7-1), which saw its nine-game winning streak snapped.
Gonzaga held Saint Mary’s to 36 percent shooting. The Gaels shot just 2 of 15 from 3-point range.
“Our defense was spectacular in the second half,” Few said.
Waldow, who came in averaging 20 points per game, made just six of 13 shots.
“We sent a lot of bodies at him,” Few said. “He can really make baskets.”
“We wanted to make it tough on him all night,” added Wiltjer.
Gonzaga has won 12 straight games and has the nation’s longest home winning streak at 35, dating to 2012.
This has been the most heated rivalry in the WCC in recent years, with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s playing in five straight league tournament finals from 2009-13. Last season, they met in the semifinals.
“We’ve got to play better offensively and defensively,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “I thought the first half, we defended well. We didn’t do well offensively, but we competed. In the second half, we didn’t do either.”
“They’re going to score,” Bennett said of Gonzaga. “You can limit them, but they’re going to score, so you’ve got to put up some points.”
The 47 points tied a season low for the Gaels.
Gonzaga led by six at halftime, and the teams traded baskets in the early going of the second half. Consecutive baskets by Karnowski and Pangos gave Gonzaga a 35-27 lead.
A 3-pointer by Garrett Jackson cut Gonzaga’s lead to three at 37-34.
But Gonzaga replied by scoring five consecutive baskets — including a pair of stuffs by Karnowski — for a 48-34 lead with 8:33 left. Saint Mary’s was scoreless for more than four minutes before Kerry Carter hit a short jumper to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 49-36. Gonzaga then scored 10 straight to put the game out of reach.
In the first half, Gonzaga made seven of its first 11 shots to take a 14-8 lead with just under 11 minutes left in the first. Saint Mary’s missed six 3-point attempts in that span.
Jock Landale’s basket during a 7-1 run by Saint Mary’s tied the score at 15.
Karnowski’s basket gave Gonzaga a 17-15 lead, and a 3-pointer by Pangos and short jumper by Wiltjer put the Zags ahead 22-17.
Waldow hit a pair of free throws to cut Gonzaga’s lead to three, but Gary Bell Jr. sank a 3-pointer and made a layup to lift Gonzaga to a 27-19 lead with two minutes left in the first.
Waldow scored again to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 27-21 at halftime. The close score was something of a moral victory for the Gaels, who shot just 33 percent in the first half, and made just one of 10 3-pointers. Gonzaga shot 52 percent.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels have the highest winning percentage of any Division I men’s basketball program in California over the past decade. … The Gaels have participated in four NCAA tournaments and three NITs in the past seven years. … Waldow has a 59.9 career field goal percentage, and leads the team with an average of 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Gonzaga: Eric McClellan, a transfer from Vanderbilt who has been sidelined with a foot injury, made his Gonzaga debut Thursday … Gonzaga is 61-27 all-time against Saint Mary’s … The Zags came in leading the nation in field goal percentage at 53.7 … Four Zags average in double figures and Domantas Sabonis is averaging 9.9 points per game.
Saint Mary’s plays at Portland on Saturday.
Gonzaga hosts Pacific on Saturday.
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