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Gonzaga rewind: Graham Ike's second-half takeover, Ryan Nembhard reaches 1K and other close calls in Stockton

Jan. 28—STOCKTON, Calif. — Mark Few didn't necessarily need any more evidence to prove his 2023-24 Gonzaga Bulldogs won't be able to cruise past West Coast Conference competition the same way many of his other teams have.

Nonetheless, Few will have another data point he can use the next time Gonzaga's coach feels the need to emphasize that message to his team.

After facing a halftime deficit Thursday at home against San Francisco, Gonzaga found itself in a similar pickle Saturday on the road against Pacific — the only team in the WCC yet to pick up a league win. On the brink of their second WCC loss in Northern California, the Zags regrouped in the second half to win 82-73 — only the second time this season they've won a game after trailing at halftime.

"We have a very small margin of error," the 25th-year Gonzaga coach said. "I've been pretty consistent with that message, so if we're not totally dialed in and bringing great energy and effort and really playing the right way and doing what we need to be doing and missing free throws, barely nicking the rim on 3s then the game is hard for us. Really hard."

Graham Ike, who powered Gonzaga's second-half surge for the second time this week, gets another look in our day-after rewind. We also touch on Ryan Nembhard's outing and look back at a few other close calls in Stockton.

Clutch-time Ike

Ike's stat line in the second half of a come-from-behind win over USF on Thursday? The junior forward totaled 19 points on 5 of 7 from the field and 9 of 9 from the free -throw line while hauling down six rebounds.

Ike's production after halftime during a come-from-behind win at Pacific on Saturday? The Wyoming transfer scored 18 points on 7 of 10 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free -throw line.

The 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward picked up early fouls in both games, limiting him to 13 minutes in the first half of Thursday's game and just four in the first half on Saturday. Ike's second foul came less than four minutes into the first half at Pacific, prompting the big man to sit for the final 16 minutes — a decision Gonzaga's coach said was influenced by the way Saturday's game was officiated.

Ike was one of seven players to pick up two fouls in the first half of a game that saw 39 total fouls called. Five players finished with at least four fouls and GU's Nembhard fouled out with approximately two minutes remaining.

"(Ike) picked up two cheap ones tonight and so that was tough," Few said. "I know obviously he deserves a ton of credit for delivering after sitting over there in the first half. Same thing with San Francisco. He's been clutch, he's been tough, he's been so valuable to us. But he's got to start understanding that, he's got to play the full 35 wherever he's in there. Actually he's playing about 24, 25."

Ike's logged more than 30 minutes on just two occasions this year and leads Gonzaga in scoring (15.3 ppg) despite ranking fifth on the team in minutes (22.3). The Overland, Colorado, native and former preseason Mountain West Player of the Year acknowledged he needs to play with more urgency in the first half.

"Definitely something I want to do in the first half," Ike said. "Foul trouble tonight, got to control what you can control at the end of the day, but it's definitely something I want to see for myself going in the first half, staying consistent."

As for what he can to do avoid early foul trouble?

"Honestly I'm not sure," he said. "I'm going to continue to try to play as hard as I can, try and make winning plays on both ends of the floor and if their fouls, they'll call them. Hopefully they're not and just try to use more of my body, less hands"

Nembhard brothers share milestone

Not unlike the first one he made, Nembhard's second 3-pointer came at a critical point in the game, with 6:16 remaining in the second half as the Zags were looking to pull away from a pesky Pacific team.

The 3-pointer extended Gonzaga's lead to two possessions at 62-56 and carried larger ramifications for the junior point guard, who reached 1,000 career points on his third field goal in the second half of Saturday's game.

"Big time, big time," Ike said. "A lot more points to come, too. We know how capable he is scoring that ball. Just proud of him, happy to see that for him and just ready to keep it going for him."

Only a fraction of Nembhard's production has come at Gonzaga with the Aurora, Ontario, scoring 753 of his 1,003 career points over 64 games at Creighton the last two seasons. The transfer point guard has reached double figures in all but four games for the Zags this season and is averaging 12.5 points to go with a WCC-high 6.5 assists.

"That's very dope. Congrats to my guy," Hickman said. "He's been having a spectacular year, spectacular college career. I'm just glad to see him continuing his greatness over here at GU. Hopefully we make this run the way we're supposed to."

Older brother Andrew Nembhard, a two-year standout at Gonzaga, reached the same milestone in the NBA less than 24 hours later. Making his 14th start this season, Andrew scored his 999th and 1,000th points in a Pacers uniform on Indiana's first basket Sunday afternoon against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The older Nembhard finished his college career with 1,308 points and reached the 1,000-point club in his 107th game. Ryan, meanwhile, achieved the career milestone in his 84th career game.

"That's a great college career if you can get 1,000 career points," Few said. "That's big time."

Close calls in Stockton

The halftime score in Stockton may have been troubling for Gonzaga fans in the building or those watching from home, but it wasn't the first time a heavily favored Bulldogs team struggled to build a commanding lead at the Spanos Center.

Gonzaga hasn't lost to Pacific in 19 tries, but the Bulldogs have been either trailing or tied at the half in four of their last nine games in Stockton. That includes both Gonzaga teams that went to the national championship. The 2020-21 Bulldogs trailed 32-31 at halftime while the 2016-17 team faced a 34-29 deficit entering the break.

When GU's managed to build a halftime lead at the Spanos Center, it generally hasn't been an overwhelming one. The Bulldogs led by 19 points the 2019 game, but leads in 2015, 2016 and 2018 came by a combined 15 points.

"These guys, you look at some of their games and they'll spread you out and if you let them make a couple look out, you've got a tiger by the tail," Few said Saturday. "We warned them about that, but sometimes you have to experience it first until you can kind of get going."

Ike's second-half takeover on Saturday was similar in some ways to Gonzaga's 2023 game in Stockton, where Drew Timme scored 24 of a career-high 38 points inside the final 20 minutes to lead the Zags to a 99-90 win.

"Something like that, yeah, yeah," Hickman said, recalling the two games. "Graham's his own player, though, I don't even really want to say he's kind of like Drew.

"He did what he needed to do and we got the win, so I'm glad he did that. That's for sure."