Gonzaga's Ben Gregg battles through back spasms to contribute 15 points, 10 rebounds

Jan. 20—SAN DIEGO — Gonzaga and Ben Gregg dodged an injury scare late in the first half.

Gregg, who made his starting debut Thursday against Pepperdine, had an awkward landing under USD's basket and was in immediate pain.

He tried to play on, but soon exited and was grabbing at his lower back. Trainer Josh Therrien worked on Gregg's back for several minutes on a training table about 15 feet behind GU's bench before the junior forward made a slow walk to the locker room to join his teammates at halftime.

The good and bad news is that Gregg said he's "dealt with it before in high school. Just muscle spasms and getting tight on me. I know how to deal with it and kind of stretch it out. My dad has struggled with back problems, too, so it runs in the family, but I'll be good by Thursday (for San Francisco at the Kennel)."

Gregg, after another session with Therrien helping stretch out his back on the training table, was back on the court to start the second half.

"They asked me if I was good and I said, 'Yeah, I'm ready to go,' " Gregg said. "I knew I was going to have to fight through it."

Gregg wasn't quite at full speed, but he scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in the closing half to finish with his first career double-double (15 points and 10 boards). He made 6 of 9 shots from the field, including 2 of 4 3-pointers. He also had five assists. Gregg had 10 rebounds against Pepperdine.

"We checked and checked and he gave us the thumb's up," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He did a good job battling because his back was bothering him."

"My boy Benny is a dog, man, that's just what he does," point guard Ryan Nembhard said. "He plays hard every night. We know what he's going to bring."

Gregg brought plenty of toughness against the Toreros. USD tested Gregg on its first possession with an isolation play for Jimmy Oludokun Jr., but Gregg held his ground in the lane and forced an errant shot.

"It is a different role (as a starter)," Gregg said. "Coming off the bench you can see how the game is going, how it's flowing and what I need to do to help the team when I get out there. Now being a starter I kind of have to set the tone from the beginning of the game and bring that energy from the start.

"It's different, it's fun, it's a blessing. I'm very honored to be part of that (starting) five."

Was that part of his decision to play with some discomfort?

"Exactly," Gregg said with a laugh. "I don't want to lose that spot."