Dons’ upset bid falls short as Zags fin­ish on 17-2 run

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - By Steve Kro­ner

USF gave Gon­zaga ev­ery­thing it wanted Satur­day night, but the Dons didn’t get what they ul­ti­mately wanted, a win.

Be­fore a loud, packed house at Me­mo­rial Gym, Gon­zaga took con­trol in the fi­nal three min­utes and put away USF 96-83.

The Dons (14-3, 2-1 WCC) didn’t take any so­lace in play­ing the fifth-ranked team in the coun­try even for most of the night.

“We don’t re­ally play to com­pete with teams. The goal is to win,” sopho­more guard Charles Min­lend said. “We think we can com­pete with any­body, so we didn’t re­ally prove any­thing to our­selves.”

Said se­nior for­ward Nate Ren­fro: “We talked about it in the locker room after the game. There are no real moral vic­to­ries in this. Peo­ple are go­ing to pat us on the back and tell us we did a great job with the No. 5 team in the coun­try. …

“We were right there. It’s tough not to close that out.”

With 3:50 left, USF cen­ter Jimbo Lull knocked in two free throws to give the Dons an 81-79 ad­van­tage.

Gon­zaga then scored the next eight points and ended

the game on a 17-2 run. Bran­don Clarke con­nected from in the lane be­fore Zach Norvell Jr. hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 84-81. The Zags were ahead to stay. On the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion, Lull missed a layup and Gon­zaga took ad­van­tage with a Geno Crandall 3-pointer to go up by six.

A bucket by Min­lend cut USF’s deficit to 87-83, but those were the Dons’ fi­nal points of the night.

“We knew it was go­ing to be like that,” Gon­zaga head coach Mark Few said, re­fer­ring to how tight the game was un­til the fi­nal minute. “They’re a heck of a team.”

The Zags (16-2, 3-0) have beaten the Dons 15 straight times since USF’s last win in the se­ries in 2012.

Gon­zaga got a game-high 24 points and nine re­bounds from Clarke, a trans­fer from San Jose State. Fel­low for­ward Rui Hachimura added 21 points.

The Dons had six play­ers score in dou­ble fig­ures, led by point guard Frankie Fer­rari, who had 21.

Gon­zaga led by 10 with about seven min­utes to go in the first half, but USF an­swered to make it a 37-37 game at the break. Fer­rari’s floater just be­fore the half­time buzzer knot­ted things.

The tight game and loud fans made for a fun at­mos­phere in Me­mo­rial, some­thing the Dons did ap­pre­ci­ate.

“Our crowd was with us tonight, and we thank them,” Ren­fro said. “We ap­pre­ci­ate them for that. Sorry we couldn’t get it done for you guys.”

Said head coach Kyle Smith: “We got a lot of at­ten­tion this week. … Hope­fully, (the fans) will stay with us win or lose, but usu­ally you’ve got to just keep win­ning. … This should be one of the tough­est places to play.”

Briefly:

Gon­zaga has won 25 con­sec­u­tive con­fer­ence road games since a 70-67 loss at St. Mary’s on Jan. 21, 2016. … Even more amaz­ing: Since los­ing 69-66 at San Diego on Feb. 22, 2014, the Zags have gone 68-0 (in­clud­ing con­fer­ence tour­na­ment games) against WCC teams not named St. Mary’s or BYU. … USF fresh­man for­ward Dzmitry Ryuny in­jured his left an­kle while grab­bing a re­bound with 7½ min­utes left. He did not re­turn. … The Dons were with­out sopho­more for­ward Taavi Jurkatamm, who is in con­cus­sion pro­to­col.

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Nate Ren­fro re­acts after a foul is called on USF, which was called for 21 fouls, four more than were called on the Zags.

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

USF guard Charles Min­lend falls to the floor as team­mate Jimbo Lull (5) is fouled. Min­lend scored 14 points; Lull had 10.

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Kyle Smith coaches a USF team that has not beaten WCC power Gon­zaga since 2012. Smith ar­rived at USF in 2016.

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