No. 7 Gonzaga wary of WCC semifinals foe USF

Gonzaga has a history of slogging through its quarterfinal matchups in the West Coast Conference Tournament.

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, the top-seeded Zags, 28-4 and ranked sixth nationally, didn’t have eighth-seeded Loyola Marymount put away until the game’s final six minutes. They will meet San Francisco in Monday’s semifinals at the Orleans Arena.

Last year, the Bulldogs — who were on their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and run to the Final Four — led Pacific in the quarterfinals by just two at halftime. Four years ago, they were rescued by David Stockton’s buzzer-beater against ninth-seeded Santa Clara.

“You look back at our history in these things, and it’s always been a struggle,” head coach Mark Few said, according to the (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review.

“You get a heavy favorite who already knows they’re playing in the NCAA Tournament and a team with not just nothing to lose, but a lot to gain. And you can talk ’til you’re blue in the face to your guys about it, but it’s hard to get the message across.”

These Zags didn’t get the message until a late 17-4 run capped by Killian Tillie’s fifth 3-pointer — he didn’t miss from long range — put Gonzaga up 81-63 with just over two minutes left.

“Last couple months, I’ve been working on my shot,” Tillie said after scoring a team-high 24 points in the 83-69 win. “They kept going in tonight. (Early), we weren’t moving the ball, and they were taking it away.”

Gonzaga, which committed seven turnovers in the first 13 minutes, trailed for much of the first half and led just 29-28 after 20 minutes.

The second half, at least on offense, was a different story.

The Zags made seven of their first nine 3-pointers after halftime and were shooting 80 percent from the field until a couple last-minute misses.

“The first 30 minutes we were not playing hard. They were taking the ball from us,” Tillie said. “We weren’t moving the ball. The last 10 we were playing harder and more aggressively.”

The 6-foot-10 Tillie and 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams combined for 44 points.

They’ll need more of the same against the Dons, who pushed the Bulldogs in the teams’ two meetings this season.

Tillie and Williams scored 16 points each in Gonzaga’s 82-73 win Jan. 27 in Spokane.

The Bulldogs raced to a 29-11 lead in that game but then went cold and led by just one with 12 minutes remaining.

“They’re solid,” Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. said of the Dons. “That was a big part of it.”

San Francisco (18-14) advanced to Monday’s semifinal with a 71-70 overtime win over Pacific.

The No. 5-seeded Dons outscored the Tigers 7-2 to start the extra period and didn’t trail again.

San Francisco coach Kyle Smith had an explanation for his team’s incentive to win: cool digs.

“We’ve got a really nice hotel, which was motivation,” Smith joked, according to SFGate.com. “Guys wanted to stay until at least Monday.”

As is usual during the WCC Tournament, the Orleans Arena crowd was Gonzaga-heavy, but there was a contingent of Dons faithful whom the USF players applauded after beating Pacific.

“We were just showing appreciation for them coming out and supporting us,” said Dons guard Jordan Ratinho, who had a team-high 20 points in the win. “A lot of them come to a lot of games, and we needed that atmosphere down the stretch.”