Though Gonzaga has needed a strong second-half performance in three of the last four games to continue its winning streak, it’s pretty much dominated from start to finish against Pacific of late.
Looking to continue their success against the West Coast Conference’s last-place team, the visiting third-ranked Bulldogs try to match a school record with their 20th consecutive victory while clinching at least a share of the league’s regular-season title Thursday night.
Though Gonzaga (26-1, 14-0) hasn’t lost since falling by three in overtime at then-No. 3 Arizona on Dec. 6, it’s had to work this month to stay hot.
The Bulldogs trailed by two at halftime at Santa Clara, and were tied with San Francisco and Pepperdine at the break. Their 80-51 rout of Loyola Marymount last Thursday was the easiest of their first four February contests.
Gonzaga overcame a 9-of-26 shooting effort in the first half to beat an improved Pepperdine squad 56-48 at home on Saturday.
“We’re going to need games like that in March, so I’m glad it came (Saturday),” guard Byron Wesley said after Gonzaga extended its longest winning streak since equaling the school record of 20 straight victories in 2005-06.
The Bulldogs, who visit second-place Saint Mary’s on Saturday, can clinch at least a share of their third straight WCC regular-season title before that matchup. With a win Thursday and a Gaels loss to Portland, they’ll own it outright.
Gonzaga was held well below the 80.7 scoring average it carried into the contest against Pepperdine, but the nation’s top-shooting team at 52.7 percent went 11 of 22 in the second half. The Waves went 15 of 28 from the floor in the first 20 minutes but 7 of 24 while scoring 18 points in the second half.
The Bulldogs shot 48.0 percent in the first half against Santa Clara, San Francisco and Pepperdine, but 58.2 percent in the second. Those same opponents collectively shot 49.5 percent in the first half but 38.9 in the final 20 minutes.
Gonzaga senior Kevin Pangos hit four 3-pointers and had 19 points Saturday. He’s gone 11 of 21 from beyond the arc in the last three contests.
”Kevin is a great leader,” Wesley said. ”Whenever we feel pressure or get rattled, we look to Kevin. He calms everybody down.”
Pangos averaged 15.3 points in three games versus Pacific (10-16, 2-12) before hitting three of five 3-point attempts to finish with nine in just 18 minutes of a 91-60 rout of the Tigers on Jan. 24. He’s 10 of 19 from 3 during Gonzaga’s four-game series winning streak.
Przemek Karnowski and Gary Bell Jr. each scored 13 to lead five players in double figures last month for the Bulldogs, who have won the last four against Pacific by at least 17 points.
The closest of those four meetings came in Gonzaga’s 70-53 road win last season as Pangos scored 18 and the visitors held the Tigers to 30.9 percent shooting.
”They’ve got a lot of weapons,” said Tigers coach Ron Verlin, whose team allowed Gonzaga to shoot 60.0 percent last month.
Back from a three-game road stretch, Pacific has averaged 58.3 points and shot 37.6 percent during a losing streak that reached seven with Saturday’s 84-59 loss at BYU.
Guard T.J. Wallace (13.4 points per game), the only Tiger averaging in double figures, scored 16.0 per game in his last seven before putting up nine against the Cougars. He had 12 while going 5 of 10 at Gonzaga last month.