No. 17 Gonzaga, San Francisco fired up for clash in WCC Tournament semifinals

Mar. 11—LAS VEGAS — Coaches and players can be quite creative when it comes to generating sources of motivation. And sometimes it just shows up gift-wrapped and already assembled.

Gonzaga and San Francisco squared off just 11 days ago — the Zags cruised 86-68 at the Chase Center — and both enter Monday's matchup in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals at Orleans Arena with sizable chips on their shoulders.

Many felt 17th-ranked and second-seeded Gonzaga (24-6) was shortchanged when no Zags were among the six WCC individual awards winners, released Tuesday. GU had strong candidates for player of the year (Graham Ike), top newcomer (Ike and Ryan Nembhard) and top defender (Anton Watson) but came away empty.

Gonzaga's Braden Huff pointed out it was "really cool" to be named to the All-Freshman Team but "obviously some other awards, some guys aren't too happy. There's some motivation for some guys on our team. I think we're going to use that, just come out strong in these next couple games."

Third-seeded San Francisco (23-9) stumbled to the regular-season finish line with three losses in its last four games against the top teams in the conference. The Dons went 0-4 against top-seeded Saint Mary's and Gonzaga and split with fourth-seeded Santa Clara. The 23rd-ranked Gaels and Broncos clash in Monday's first semifinal at 6 p.m.

USF, represented by forward Jonathan Mogbo (top newcomer) and guard Ryan Beasley (top freshman) on the WCC awards list, seemed to get back on track by clobbering Portland 72-51 in Saturday's quarterfinals.

"I got a lot of questions and comments over the last week in regard to how we were going to get our mojo back," Dons coach Chris Gerlufsen said. "My simple response was, in more polite terms, every team in college basketball goes through something like we did at the end of the season. It's how you respond more than anything. I trust in my team."

The Dons made seven 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes and hit 59.3% in the opening half while building a 42-19 lead. San Francisco finished with 11 3s, four by All-WCC first-teamer Marcus Williams and three by forward Ndewedo Newbury, and limited the Pilots to 33% shooting.

"It's at an all-time high," said Williams, when asked about the team's confidence level going into Monday's matchup. "We finished third for a reason. We let two slip away (against Gonzaga) but I don't think we're going to let this one slip away."

Added Gerlufsen: "Gonzaga is playing at an all-time high right now, an amazing end of the season. I thought we played a decent (first) half and just lost our way in the second half (at Chase Center). I know our guys in the locker room will be determined. We'll have an extremely uphill fight, but I think our guys are up for the challenge."

Gonzaga led the Dons by 13 late before hanging on for a 77-72 victory in Spokane. In the recent rematch, the Zags led by 29 with 2:10 remaining. Two days later, Gonzaga led by as many as 19 and handled Saint Mary's 70-57 in Moraga, seemingly sealing a spot in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in Las Vegas.

That doesn't mean they're short on motivation.

"We all kind of know (what's at stake) but there's not much being said about it," junior forward Ben Gregg said. "I think the big message is go down there and win the tournament and everything will take care of itself."

Gonzaga has made significant strides at both ends of the floor during an eight-game winning streak. Ike has scored at least 20 points in seven straight games, elevating his scoring average to 18.4 points in conference. Nembhard has had eight consecutive games with at least six assists while contributing 13.8 points and 6.8 assists in conference.

GU's defense has limited foes to 40.2%, 15th nationally.

"What they've done with their limited numbers has been really impressive," USF assistant coach and former GU guard Kyle Bankhead said. "Those guys have been warriors for them, the Nembhards, Hickmans. Everyone knew (Ike) was a great low-post scorer, but the way he's kind of taken his game to the next level in the past couple weeks.

"I really feel like regardless of what kind of coverage you throw at him, he's been successful. They're a monster right now."