No. 12 Gonzaga hopes to halt Pacific’s ascent

Things have changed for Pacific since it opened the West Coast Conference schedule with a blowout loss to Gonzaga.

The Tigers (12-13, 7-5 WCC), who host the No. 12 Zags on Thursday in Stockton, Calif., have climbed into a tie for third place in the conference.

“They are a tough team, and this is a tough place to play,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said, according to The Pacifican. “I think the main difference between now and the first time we played them is that they are figuring it out. They have a lot of new guys, and they are figuring out who should be in each role.”

The Gaels, who beat Pacific by 18 on Jan. 4, needed some late free throws to edge the Tigers, 72-69, 16 days later.

In head coach Damon Stoudamire’s second season, Pacific has already surpassed last year’s win total (11). But the Tigers have been streaky.

The second loss to Saint Mary’s was the first of three in a row following four straight wins.

Junior guard Miles Reynolds was held to seven points on 2-for-8 shooting in the Tigers’ 81-48 loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 28.

But since then he has three 20-point games — including the past two — and has raised his scoring average to 14.3 points per game in conference play.

Reynolds had 22 points and four assists on Saturday as Pacific topped Pepperdine, 81-72, to sweep the season series.

The Tigers have a 4-1 record — including a 67-66 win over BYU — in WCC home games.

“We’re changing the culture that’s been here for the past four years,” junior guard Roberto Gallinat told the Stockton Record.

“It feels good to have (an excited) crowd. We’re giving them what they want.”

In addition to the Tigers, Gonzaga (21-4, 11-1) faces another challenge: to not look ahead.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs will be in Moraga, Calif., for a rematch with No. 11 Saint Mary’s. The Gaels beat the Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 18.

The Zags have won their past three games without much margin for error.

On Saturday, they found themselves tied with San Diego with just over two minutes to go.

But redshirt freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. hit a 3-pointer to break the tie as the Bulldogs closed the game with a 9-1 run.

“It’s just on to the next shot,” Norvell told the (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review. “I was kind of upset with myself on a lot of defensive possessions down the stretch. I didn’t sit down and get any stops to help my team. It’s just (move on to the) next shot, confidence and being able to make the next shot was big.”

Norvell remained confident even as he missed his first seven field-goal attempts.

“I’m a tough guy,” Norvell said. “I’m not going to really dwell on the past. There are so many possessions in a game you have to be on to the next one.”

Norvell’s outlook reminded Zags forward Johnathan Williams of a former Gonzaga player.

“Kyle (Wiltjer) was like that,” Williams said. “He’d miss two or three in a row and shoot with the same amount of confidence. Zach actually played defense down the stretch, he’s the one that got that steal (on Haws). He did a great job. I’m proud of the young guys. They really stepped up and played.”