SPOKANE — In the course of making 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, seventh-ranked Gonzaga has set so many program records that comparatively few are left.
They set another one Wednesday night when they defeated South Dakota 102-65 for the best start in team history.
It was the Bulldogs’ 12th consecutive victory to open the season, breaking the record of 11 set by the 1944 squad.
“We should all feel good,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of his team. “Every task and challenge presented to us, these guys have met it. They’re to be commended for that.”
Going 12-0 to open the season “was an impressive job by these guys,” Few said, in light of a tough nonconference schedule.
Gonzaga eclipsed the 1944 Zags, who started the season with 11 consecutive victories. Since joining the NCAA in 1958, the Zags’ best start was 9-0 in 2012-13.
Gonzaga is holding opponents to 36-percent shooting this season, sixth in the nation. The Bulldogs have trailed in the second half only one time, against Florida. They’ve trailed for less than 34 minutes combined in their 12 games.
Freshman Zach Collins scored 21 points to lead Gonzaga on Wednesday. He made all nine of his field-goal attempts.
Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss added 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Gonzaga, which shot 53 percent from the floor.
Matt Mooney and Tyler Flack scored 13 points each for South Dakota (9-6), which couldn’t overcome a cold shooting night. The Coyotes shot just 36 percent from the floor in the game.
“This is as good a team as I’ve seen them have, without a doubt,” South Dakota coach Craig Smith said of the Bulldogs. “They’ll be national-title contenders.
“I thought we played them tough the first 10 minutes and then kind of lost our will,” Smith said. “There are just not a lot of holes out there on their team and they exploited us.”
The Zags concluded a nonconference slate that included victories over Florida, Iowa State, No. 18 Arizona, Washington, Tennessee and San Diego State.
They have just West Coast Conference games remaining on their schedule, which prompted Tennessee coach Rick Barnes to wonder last weekend if the Bulldogs might go undefeated through the regular season. Gonzaga still has to play at least twice against No. 19 Saint Mary’s.
Few said Saint Mary’s is as tough a league challenger to the Zags as he has seen during the Bulldogs’ NCAA run.
South Dakota hung with the Zags early, trailing just 20-18 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. But the Zags went on a 9-0 run to push the lead to 11 points.
After a South Dakota basket, Gonzaga scored 10 consecutive points, including 3-pointers by Williams-Goss and Johnathan Williams, for a 39-20 lead. The Coyotes were held to one basket over a span of nearly 7 minutes.
Gonzaga led 52-25 at halftime, after shooting 60.6 percent from the field and making 7 of 14 attempts from 3-point range. South Dakota shot just 31 percent in the first half, missing all nine of its 3-point attempts.
The Coyotes scored just seven points in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
The fast start continued a trend for Gonzaga, which outscored its previous six opponents by an average of 41-26 in the first half.
South Dakota’s shooting improved in the second half, but it couldn’t make up any ground on the Bulldogs.
Despite the lopsided loss, the Coyotes are off to their best start since joining NCAA Division I in 2008. Eight different Coyotes have led the team in scoring this season.