By Kellan King
Tonight’s clash with the #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs was possibly the most anticipated game since USF restarted their program in 1986. The Dons came into the night firmly on the bubble, looking to cement their resume with a program defining win over the Zags. Gonzaga wanted to continue their WCC dominance, and pick up a Quad 1 win on the road. It would be the Zags biggest conference test yet, a top 25 KenPom team in a War Memorial Gymnasium that had people packed to the brim hoping for an upset.
The game started off fast, with both teams trading buckets, and the Zags holding a 18-11 early lead behind 4 treys. The Dons responded, with Jamaree Bouyea getting to rack twice to cut the lead to 5. Gonzaga started to get a little sloppy after its hot start, turning the ball over 4 times and allowing USF to tie it up at 23.
The game continued at a frantic pace. At one point, Josh Kunen hit a 3 to cut the Zag lead to 1, and Gonzaga came right down and got a layup 5 seconds later. Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard paced GU through the mid stages of the first half, getting buckets in the pick and roll, and controlling the pace.
With around 7 minutes in the half, Gonzaga switched to a trapping half court zone defense, which slowed down the explosive USF attack for a couple possessions. On the other end USF continued to have trouble stopping the Zag offense. After a Holmgren and-1, the Gonzaga lead was 8. Late in the half, GU took control. A 7-0 run put them up 13, before another Josh Kunen 3 to end the half cut the lead to 10. Gonzaga put up 52 in the first half on 67% shooting, a remarkable offensive output.
In the second half, the Zags really took control. They scored 8 straight to extend the lead to 19. Chet Holmgren looked like a #1 pick, hitting 3s from the outside and finishing inside to help the Zags extend their lead. The Dons would not go down without a fight though. Julian Rishwain hit a big 3, and Yauhen Massalski made a tough layup to cut the lead to 14.
Down the stretch, the Dons just couldn’t cut into the Gonzaga lead. With around 5 minutes to go, there was a scary moment when Senior guard Khalil Shabazz went down for around 15 seconds, bleeding on the court before play was stopped. A flagrant foul was called on Andrew Nembhard, but the Dons could not capitalize, missing 2 free throws. The Dons would get as close as 10, but never could make that late push to really put the pressure on Gonzaga. ‘In the end, the Zags would prevail 89-73.
Post game press conference with Jamaree Bouyea and Coach Todd Golden