MORAGA, (CBS/AP) — Gonzaga coach Mark Few was uncertain how his team would respond on the road following back-to-back losses that knocked the Bulldogs out of the Top 25.
Sam Dower Jr. had no such concerns and made sure Few took a peaceful flight back to the Pacific Northwest after moving one step closer to his 400th career victory.
Dower bounced back from one of his worst performances of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds as part of Gonzaga’s 75-47 win over St. Mary’s on Saturday.
It was the Bulldogs’ second straight lopsided win after they were knocked off by BYU and San Diego last week. Gonzaga beat Pacific 70-53 on Thursday.
“It’s difficult to try to right your ship on the road,” Few said. “To these guys’ credit, it’s all them. They banded together and we really played a tough, hard-nosed physical brand of ball. I wish we would have done this the weekend before, but maybe we had to go through that to get to this point where we are now.”
Limited to six points because of foul trouble against Pacific, Dower was the catalyst for the Bulldogs in their regular season finale. He went 7 of 11 from the floor and helped spark an early 21-3 run that put Gonzaga ahead for good.
Dower, who has seven of his eight career double-doubles this season, was coming off a back injury and didn’t score in seven minutes when the two teams played on Jan. 2.
He had no health issues this time, scoring on a series of mid-range jumpers in the first half, then powering in for a thunderous dunk early in the second half.
“We just knew that we had to focus on these guys, on the team, and nothing else,” Dower said. “Guys took responsibility for what they weren’t doing in those games we lost, and as a team, we grew. We knew what we had to do here. Big things were at stake.”
David Stockton added 10 points, five assists and five rebounds while Przemek Karnowski had 10 points and six rebounds for the Bulldogs (25-6, 15-3 West Coast Conference). Few’s team had previously clinched the regular season title and will head into the conference tournament as the top seed.
The Zags led by as much as 34 and outscored the Gaels 42-14 in the paint.
Stephen Holt had 10 points, all on free throws, for St. Mary’s (21-10, 11-7). The Gaels shot just 23.1 percent from the floor and lost for the third time in five games.
“We did not bring a good enough effort across the board,” St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “You get what you tolerate. We’ve got to identify why we’re not playing harder. I’ve got to figure that out, fast.”
The game drew a standing-room-only crowd to McKee Pavilion for Senior Night and was televised nationally, reminiscent of previous clashes between these two longtime rivals.
It wound up a blowout by the Bulldogs, who built a 20-point halftime lead then cruised to their sixth straight win over the Gaels and their most lopsided since a 105-65 win in the 2001 conference tournament.
Gonzaga will take a much-deserved break after playing its fourth game in 10 days. The Bulldogs open the WCC tournament against the winner of Thursday’s game between Pacific and Santa Clara.
The Bulldogs will do so on the heels of a rare blowout in this series between the two conference giants.
St. Mary’s, which plays Pepperdine on Saturday, led 3-0 on Beau Levesque’s 3-pointer before Gonzaga went on its big run over the next eight minutes.
The Bulldogs led by double digits the rest of the way while helping Few earn his 399th career win.
“We had a couple of turnovers to start the game and then we just choked that off and played really efficient basketball,” Few said. “We just spread them out, found each other and trusted each other.”
Dower nearly had his double-double before the break. He had nine points and seven rebounds while scoring on a pair of mid-range jumpers, a layup and a put-back.
Gonzaga also got an early lift from its backcourt tandem of Kevin Pangos and David Stockton. The duo repeatedly gashed the Gaels with drives down the lane and helped the Bulldogs open a 15-point lead following their big run in the first half.
St. Mary’s, which ended Gonzaga’s stranglehold on the conference regular season championship with back-to-back titles in 2011 and `12, had no answer on either end. The Gaels shot just 19 percent before halftime and had scoreless stretches of 6:24 and 5:18.
“Offensively we just didn’t make shots, but it starts on the defensive end,” Holt said. “We didn’t compete. It’s just that simple.”
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