STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — Gonzaga prides itself on having a balanced offense with many different options to beat an opponent. Against Pacific, Kyle Wiltjer was the only option needed.
Wiltjer had 45 points in Gonzaga’s highest-scoring game in 54 years and the third-ranked Bulldogs tied a school record with their 20th straight win, 86-74 over Pacific on Thursday night.
“He started early and finished late,” coach Mark Few said. “There are some days he starts late. This was one where he was on it all night. His teammates did a great job of finding him and looking for him and understanding that.”
Gary Bell Jr. added 12 points as the Bulldogs (27-1, 15-0 West Coast Conference) used another strong shooting night to roll to a victory. Gonzaga, which leads the nation in shooting at 52.7 percent, made 60 percent of its shots, keyed by a 15-for-22 night by Wiltjer.
Wiltjer had the third-highest scoring game in school history and the most points since Frank Burgess scored a school-record 52 on Jan. 26, 1961.
“I was just in the zone,” he said. “My teammates just got me the ball. I wasn’t thinking of it and it just happened.”
T.J Wallace scored 19 points, David Taylor added 18 and Ray Bowles had 13 for the Tigers (10-17, 2-13), who have lost eight straight games.
The Bulldogs struggled to pull away from the last-place Tigers after opening up a double-digit lead midway through the first half. Taylor hit three of his five 3-pointers early in the second half and Pacific got the deficit down to seven with just under 7 minutes left.
But Wiltjer hit a 3-pointer and a pair of layups to build the lead back to 11, as the Bulldogs cruised to maintain their perfect conference record.
Wiltjer scored 18 of Gonzaga’s 22 points during a 12-minute stretch in the second half. He hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to give him his 45.
“It’s fun to watch,” point guard Kevin Pangos said. “He makes it look so easy. You just want to keep on getting him the ball any chance you can.”
Wiltjer got started early, scoring nine points in the first 5 minutes, including seven straight during a 10-0 run that gave Gonzaga a 17-9 lead.
The Tigers managed to keep the deficit manageable by hitting six 3-pointers in the first half. But Wiltjer did not cool off a bit and his 3-pointer late in the half gave him 22 points and made it 45-35.
“He’s a tough guard,” Wallace said. “He has a variety of moves. You take away one option, he has something else in his bag. Anyone’s going to have a tough time guarding that guy.”
Gonzaga: The 20-game win streak for the Zags ties a school record. Gonzaga also won 20 games in a row in 2003-04 and 2005-06. … The Bulldogs hit their first six 3-pointers.
Pacific: The Tigers have lost five straight meetings to the Bulldogs, including all four since entering the WCC last season. Pacific’s only win against Gonzaga came in 1976.
Gonzaga clinched at least a share of the conference title with the win and needs just one win in its next three games to win the outright championship.
“We have a share now and we have Saturday to try to win it,” Few said. “That’s our first goal every year and it’s a big goal.”
Wiltjer had the highest scoring game ever by a Pacific opponent and scored the most points in the history of the Alex G. Spanos Center.
“It seemed like every time we left him open, he made us pay,” Pacific coach Ron Verlin said.
Gonzaga: Visits Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
Pacific: Hosts Portland on Saturday.
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