SPOKANE, Washington — For all the frustration it caused, the slower and sometimes sluggish way No. 3 Gonzaga was forced to play Thursday night by San Diego could prove to be a benefit.
There is a good chance the Bulldogs will have to play that way sometime in March.
Przemek Karnowski scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, Domantas Sabonis added 11 off the bench, and Gonzaga overcame a sluggish first half to beat San Diego 59-39 for its 22nd straight victory.
"What we've tried to do is take this weekend and say this is similar to what the first weekend of the NCAAs is going to be like," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "You might play a team with a low possession the first time out and then 36 hours later play someone who wants to run up and down and pressure all over the floor. We have to be ready for everything."
With the West Coast Conference regular-season title already wrapped up, the Bulldogs (29-1, 17-0) were mostly uninspired for the first 20 minutes against the Toreros before pulling away in the second half. San Diego wanted to play slow and it left the Bulldogs frustrated offensively for most of the first half.
But Gonzaga's defense was there throughout, holding the Toreros to 29.6 percent shooting and a season low in points. Gonzaga will have a chance to post the first 18-0 regular season in WCC history in Saturday's finale against BYU. It would be the fifth undefeated WCC season for Gonzaga and the 14th in conference history.
Karnowski scored eight points in the first six minutes of the second half and the Bulldogs' superior size on the interior overcame an off shooting night from the outside. Kevin Pangos hit a 3-pointer to start the game, but Gonzaga missed its next nine and finished just 3 of 12 behind the arc.
But Thursday's victory was not the type of performance from Gonzaga that will wow the NCAA tournament committee. Leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer didn't score in the second half, finishing with five points. Pangos didn't hit a shot after the opening 3. Bell scored 13 points and Byron Wesley added 12 as Gonzaga won its 41st straight at home.
"In the second half I tried to establish myself underneath and go to my moves strong and I thought that worked especially the first five, six minutes," Karnowski said.
Brandon Perry led San Diego (14-15, 7-10) with nine points. Leading scorer Johnny Dee was hounded by Gonzaga's Gary Bell Jr. and held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
"The talent discrepancy between our two programs — they're just so talented," San Diego coach Bill Grier said. "We had to play like that and we had to play perfect in here, and we deviated from the plan enough that they made us pay every time we did."
San Diego lingered for much of the second half and was within 40-35 after Thomas Jacobs' putback dunk with 6:59 left. Wesley scored on a cutting layup and Bell hit the Bulldogs' second 3-pointer and Gonzaga's lead was back to 10 with 5:55 left.
San Diego: San Diego missed 12 of its final 13 attempts in the first half and shot just 21 percent. The 17 points were a season low in the first half for the Toreros.
Gonzaga: The 22 first-half points were a season low for the Bulldogs. They were held to 27 in their lone loss to Arizona. ... The Bulldogs had made at least four 3-pointers in every other game this season.
Gonzaga slogged for nearly 18 minutes of the first half before closing on a 9-0 run to take a 22-17 lead. Sabonis scored twice on the interior and Wiltjer converted a three-point play in transition off a perfect pass by Eric McClellan, just the Bulldogs' third assist of the half. Sabonis' first basket that started the run snapped a string of more than seven minutes without a basket.
Few was quick to credit McClellan for sparking the Bulldogs during his brief three minutes in the first half.
"He changed the game and woke us all up," Few said.
San Diego: Visits Portland on Saturday.
Gonzaga: Hosts BYU on Saturday.