Stockton, Calif. - Playing the WCC Game of the Week, the Tigers held tough but fell in the end in a hard-fought contest to the conference's perennial power, Gonzaga, 71-61, on Saturday in front of 4,309 fans. Pacific (6-13) fell for the first time in three contests and below .500 in WCC play at 4-5 while Gonzaga (15-5) improved to 7-2 in the conference and a half game out of first place.
Holding the vaunted Gonzaga offense without a point for nearly five minutes late in the opening half, the Tigers were able to hang with the Bulldogs despite a cold shooting performance of their own. Trailing by as much as six, Pacific was able to cut the Bulldog lead to just one at 21-20 with just under four to play before a three-point play by Kyle Wiltjer ended the drought for Gonzaga and pushed the lead back to four.
Despite the lack of offense and the a tightly called game that saw the entirety of Pacific's front line in foul trouble, the Tigers never lost touch with the Bulldogs, keeping within reach before an Illias Theodorou jumper just before half made it a one-point Zag lead heading into the break at 26-25. For Pacific, the ball struggled to find the bottom of the net as the Tigers shot just 24.1% in the half, but saw senior Alec Kobre lead the way with eight points including a pair of threes to balance the nine points Gonzaga got out of the WCC's top scorer in Wiltjer.
Out of the break, the teams traded baskets with Kobre getting into the paint for a pair of easy buckets before a Tonko Vuko floater and a jumper from Jacob Lampkin at the free throw line gave Pacific its first lead of the day at 33-31 since the 18:36 mark in the first half. After a layup by the Zags put the Bulldogs back out front by one, Pacific would find its stroke from deep with back-to-back threes from David Taylor and Ray Bowles to push the Tigers ahead by five at 40-35 with 14:48 to play in the game.
Unfortunately for the Tigers the lead would hold for only a minute as the Zags also began to find a rhythm, scoring eight-unanswered points including six from Eric McClellan to jump back out front by three at 45-42 just after the second media. A layup by Vuko would finally end the drought for the Tigers after nearly three minutes, getting Pacific back within one for the final quarter of action.
The one-point would be as close as the Tigers would get as the Zags answered a three by Kobre over the top of Domantas Sabonis with a pair of deep shots of their own including a three from Wiltjer off a missed Bulldog free throw. They would extend the lead to 12 points moments later when Wiltjer drilled a deep three from the top of the key to make it a 60-48 contest with 4:30 to play. Kobre would break the streak by the Zags with a floater from 10 feet but it would not be enough to get Pacific back into it as the Zags would hold on to their lead despite missing five-straight free throws during one-stretch in the final two minutes.
In the end, the Tigers could not overcome the combined efforts of Wiltjer (23 points), McClellen (19 points), and Sabonis (12 points) despite the best efforts from Kobre who scored 20 points. The Tigers' ace from the outside came up with his third 20-point effort of the year with six field goals, half of which came from distance. Bowles and Taylor would each chipped in nine points with Taylor making all three of his shots from distance in 19 minutes of play.
Gonzaga held the advantage on the glass thanks to Sabonis and his game-high 20 rebounds, nearly half of the Zags' 44 rebounds in the contest. The Tigers saw their big man, Eric Thompson, come up with a season-best nine rebounds despite being saddled with foul trouble all game while T.J. Wallace grabbed eight of Pacific's 38 in the contest.
As a team the Tigers shot 31.1% (19-of-61) in the game while the Zags hit 45.1% (23-of-51) of their shots from the floor.
The Tigers kickoff the second half of the WCC season on Saturday, Jan. 30 when they host the conference's top team in the Saint Mary's Gaels. The game is scheduled for 8:00 pm.