SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Brandon Clarke scored 24 points and No. 5 Gonzaga got a tiebreaking 3-pointer from Zach Norvell Jr. with less than three minutes remaining to spark a 15-2 run to finish off a 96-83 victory over San Francisco on Saturday night.
Rui Hachimura added 21 points and Josh Perkins added 16 with some clutch baskets down the stretch to lead the Bulldogs (16-2, 3-0 WCC) to their 17th straight conference win, including the postseason tournament.
The Dons (14-3, 2-1) lost by 28 points to Gonzaga in the WCC semifinals last year but showed they have closed the gap a bit this season behind another strong performance by Frankie Ferrari, who led the way with 21 points.
Ferrari hit three free throws with 5:24 to play to give the Dons a 75-74 lead, their first edge since early in the first half. The game went back and forth from there with Perkins hitting a pull-up and a 3-pointer for Gonzaga and USF answering with a reverse by Jordan Ratinho and a floater from Ferrari.
The game turned in Gonzaga’s favor when Norvell hit his 3 to make it 84-81. After Jimbo Lull missed a shot down low for the Dons, drawing complaints for a foul by coach Kyle Smith, the Bulldogs answered with another 3 by Geno Crandall to take control.
Clarke added a key block late to help seal Gonzaga’s 15th straight win in the series.
This was one of the tougher contests as USF seemed poised for its first win against a top five team since beating No. 5 Wichita State in Hawaii on Dec. 29, 1981, before falling just short at the end.
Gonzaga built a 10-point lead before the Dons closed the first half on a 16-6 run helped by three baskets from Ferrari to tie the game at 37 at the break.
Gonzaga: The biggest positive for the Bulldogs was the performance of big man Killian Tillie, in his third game back from ankle surgery. Tillie missed the entire nonconference season and scored just nine points his first two games. He scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half before fouling out with 6:55 to go.
San Francisco: The Dons were off to their best start since 1981-82 but faced by far their toughest test yet against Gonzaga. They answered almost every run the Bulldogs made and were able to keep the game close until the end. Whether that kind of performance will be enough to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee in March remains to be seen.
Gonzaga: Host Loyola Marymount on Thursday.
San Francisco: Visit Pacific on Thursday.
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