SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — In three straight road losses to San Francisco, Gonzaga’s biggest stumbling block hasn’t been the opponent so much as it’s been the Bulldogs’ inability to close out a game.
This time it meant a costly loss for the perennial West Coast Conference power.
No. 24 Gonzaga went scoreless over the final 3:44 and the Bulldogs’ hopes for a 12th consecutive conference title took a serious hit Saturday with a 66-65 loss to the Dons.
“It’s just us. It’s nothing about this team or this building,” said Elias Harris, who had a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. “Basically, we made it really simple for San Francisco to guard us the last 3 minutes because nothing really happened. It was just our pure stupidity.”
Gonzaga held the Dons to three points over the final 7:15 but the Bulldogs had their own offensive problems and couldn’t score on their final six possessions.
Rashad Green hit a short leaner with 3.3 seconds left to send the Bulldogs (21-5, 11-3) to their third loss in a row at War Memorial Gym.
“We got enough stops to probably win, but we had a bunch of empty possessions there in the last 2 minutes,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, whose team dropped a game behind No. 21 Saint Mary’s in the conference standings with two games remaining.
Gonzaga, which needed a late second-half surge to beat Santa Clara two nights earlier, shot 51.1 percent from the floor but allowed San Francisco to score 26 points off turnovers.
“It was a short preparation for this game, but we spent a lot of time on (turnovers),” Few said. “USF is always challenging you with the traps and the pressure. You’ve got to be smarter and tougher than that.”
Green finished with 16 points, Perris Blackwell added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Michael Williams scored 13 for the Dons (18-11, 8-7).
Fans in the capacity crowd stormed center court after the buzzer and mobbed San Francisco’s players and coaches.
Dons coach Rex Walters preferred his players not take part in the celebration but understood the crowd’s reaction.
“You need to understand what Gonzaga is,” Walters said. “They are a machine. They are a basketball machine and they are not a mid-major. They are a high-major program. For us to get that win is big.”
Green’s game-winner capped a frantic final 2 minutes, when a referee’s inadvertent whistle appeared to cost Gonzaga a possession with 1:07 left.
San Francisco’s Cody Doolin had his shot blocked by 7-foot center Robert Sacre, then the Dons made another critical mistake when Williams had his pass stolen by Gonzaga’s Cody Hart with 44 seconds left.
After Harris missed a short jumper for the Bulldogs, Cole Dickerson rebounded the ball and got it to Green streaking down the right side. He cut through the key and scored to stun Gonzaga for the third straight year.
Early on, it appeared the Bulldogs were headed for an easy win.
Gonzaga led by seven early in the first half behind Gary Bell Jr. and the interior defense of Sacre. Coming off back-to-back low-scoring games against Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara, Bell made three 3-pointers and scored 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
When the Dons switched to a full-court press, the Bulldogs struggled to adjust, had trouble getting the ball past midcourt and lost their lead.
Williams scored five points, Green had four and San Francisco went on a 13-0 run to bring the capacity crowd to its feet. Green later made a 14-footer at the buzzer while falling to the floor to give the Dons a 36-33 halftime lead.
The teams stayed close and traded the lead five times before Green’s decisive shot.
Bell had 16 points while Sacre finished with 11 points and eight rebounds for Gonzaga.
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