By Michael Wagaman Associated Press
STOCKTON, Calif. — Kevin Pangos took Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s advice and attacked the basket nearly every time he touched the ball.
The Bulldogs rode the junior guard’s aggressiveness all the way to another outright West Coast Conference regular season title.
Pangos had 18 points, Drew Barham matched his career high with 17 points off the bench, and Gonzaga beat Pacific 70-53 on Thursday night.
“I just tried to focus on what coach was saying, being aggressive driving to the rim, and it worked out in my favor,” said Pangos, who went 6 of 14 from the floor. “Being a little stronger with the ball, being aggressive in general. I had a little pep in my step, which felt good.”
It was the perfect bounce-back game for the Bulldogs, (24-6, 14-3 WCC), who will head into the conference tournament as the top seed for the 11th time in coach Mark Few’s 15 seasons.
Gonzaga had lost back-to-back games to BYU and San Diego and fell out of the Top 25 before blowing out the Tigers in their first visit to the Northern California campus in more than 35 years.
The win was also the 398th of Few’s career and came after the Bulldogs’ longtime coach implored Pangos to finish off drives in the lane following a pair of poor performances against BYU and San Diego.
“We took 14 runners against San Diego, one-footed runners, and (Pangos) took about six of them,” Few said. “We got back to if you’re going to turn the corner, attack the rim with some toughness or get down to a two-foot stop and see if you could make something happen there. Secondly, we did a nice job of moving it and finding him off some screens.”
The Bulldogs led by as much as 23 despite an off night from leading scorer Sam Dower Jr. and got enough scoring off the bench to make up for the slack.
Gonzaga also had to overcome a slow night from 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski spent much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble and injured his right foot six minutes into the second half. The Bulldogs big man returned and finished with nine points and nine rebounds but continued to wince in pain while on the bench.
T.J. Wallace had nine points and four rebounds for Pacific (14-14, 5-12).
The Bulldogs led nearly the entire game and had no problem putting away the Tigers in their first visit to the Pacific campus since Dec. 23, 1976.
That took Gonzaga out of a must-win situation heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at St. Mary’s.
Pangos, held to 17 points combined in the losses to BYU and San Diego, had 15 points in the first half and repeatedly sped past Pacific’s defense for easy buckets. He had nine points as part of a 13-0 run when Gonzaga took the lead for good, then helped keep the Bulldogs comfortably ahead in the second half.
“When (Pangos is) attacking it opens it all up for the shooters,” Barham said. “He’s kind of like the head of the snake. By him playing well it helped us all out.”
Dower Jr., the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, was also slowed by fouls and had just six points.
Gonzaga had no problem picking up the defensive slack and forced 16 turnovers — 10 in the first half — and got a big lift from Barham off the bench.
Barham made four 3-pointers to keep the Bulldogs rolling. He scored eight consecutive points to push the Bulldogs lead to 64-43 in the second half.
“We wanted to be more aggressive and just have fun,” said Barham, who went 5 of 7 from the floor. “After you lose you get bogged down and coming out we wanted to be aggressive.”
Pacific, which matched its longest losing streak of the season at four, couldn’t keep up.
Playing before their largest crowd at the Spanos Center since 2005, the Tigers got off to a sluggish start then briefly took the lead midway through the first half before losing to Gonzaga for the fifth time in six meetings between the two schools.
It marked the fourth straight game Pacific has been held under 60 points.
Gonzaga held Pacific scoreless for the first five minutes but led only 12-11 after Karnowski picked up his second foul midway through the first half.
Pangos scored on three quick layups and made a trio of free throws as part of a 13-0 run that put Gonzaga up for good. He later added a pair of threes that helped the Bulldogs go up 40-28 at halftime.