SAN FRANCISCO — Rasir Bolton scored on a follow shot with 7 seconds left to give No. 9 Gonzaga its first lead since the opening minutes and the Bulldogs beat San Francisco 77-75 on Thursday night.
“I was just trying to win, just do whatever it took,” Bolton said. “We came out kind of flat. It was a rough game. We battled the whole time trying to fight back. But at the end, we came out with the win.”
Gonzaga (13-3, 2-0 West Coast Conference) trailed nearly the entire way before Bolton rebounded a miss by Drew Timme and scored to break a 75-all tie. Bolton was fouled on the play but missed the free throw, giving the Dons (11-7, 0-3) one last chance.
But Khalil Shabazz mishandled his dribble and never got a shot off as San Francisco fell just short of ending a 24-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.
Bolton scored 11 of his 21 points in the final 5:15 to lead Gonzaga back, making three key 3-pointers before his game-winner.
“Those are the shots we believe him to make,” teammate Julian Strawther said. “The dude is an elite shot maker. He showed that tonight. We’re proud of him but we expect that.”
Strawther added 16 points and Timme was held to 11 on 3-for-16 shooting.
Tyrell Roberts scored 18 points for the Dons, making the basket that gave them a 75-73 lead. Shabazz added 17.
“I won’t sleep well tonight,” coach Chris Gerlufsen said. “But as we go back and break the film down and see all the good things and the positive things that we did throughout the game, those are things that we need to build on. We need to continue to learn. This one hurt because I thought our guys just gutted it out and left everything on the floor.”
Gonzaga has won 80 straight games against unranked opponents.
The Dons, coming off consecutive 12-point losses to open conference play, took control early thanks to good outside shooting and solid work on the offensive boards.
Shabazz made back-to-back 3-pointers late in the half to build the lead to 12 points and USF took a 46-36 lead into the half when Isaiah Hawthorne scored on a put-back with 2 seconds left. The Dons had a 16-0 advantage on second-chance points in the first half.
The Bulldogs played much better defensively in the second half. They used an 11-1 run run early to get the deficit down to two and the game remained tight until the closing stretch when they turned it on for the win.
“I wish we didn’t have to go through stuff like that,” coach Mark Few said. “I guess if you put your hand on the hot stove, you’re going to get burned. … If we don’t come out and play with great energy and connectivity and passion, then we’re going to be beat. Our margin of error is way less.”
BILL RUSSELL NIGHT
The Dons honored late star Bill Russell, who died over the summer at age 88. Russell led San Francisco to back-to-back national titles in 1955-56 before going on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, winning 11 championships in 13 seasons.
There was a pregame video tribute and more played throughout the game.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs were given a rare test in conference play, being forced to play from behind for most of the game as they struggled shooting and on the glass. The nation’s top shooting team at 52.6% shot just 45% from the field.
San Francisco: The Dons fell to 3-27 against ranked teams in the past 10 seasons with the loss but looked for a while like they could build on last month’s victory over then-No. 25 Arizona State. San Francisco has managed to play Gonzaga tough a few times in recent years but has now lost 25 straight in the series since a home win in 2012.
Gonzaga visits Santa Clara on Saturday night.
Gonzaga 77, San Francisco 75
GONZAGA (13-3) — Timme 3-16 5-6 11, Watson 6-9 0-1 14, Bolton 8-12 0-1 21, Hickman 4-7 0-0 8, Strawther 7-14 0-0 16, Smith 0-2 2-2 2, Sallis 1-2 0-0 2, Gregg 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 30-66 7-10 77.
SAN FRANCISCO (11-7) — Hawthorne 2-5 2-2 6, Kunen 3-4 1-2 9, Meeks 5-14 3-3 14, Roberts 6-11 4-4 18, Shabazz 6-15 1-2 17, Markovetskyy 3-4 0-0 6, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Rishwain 1-3 0-0 3, Gigiberia 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-59 11-13 75.
Halftime—San Francisco 46-36. 3-Point Goals—Gonzaga 10-26 (Bolton 5-7, Watson 2-4, Strawther 2-5, Gregg 1-4, Sallis 0-1, Smith 0-1, Timme 0-1, Hickman 0-3), San Francisco 10-23 (Shabazz 4-8, Kunen 2-2, Roberts 2-4, Rishwain 1-2, Meeks 1-4, Hawthorne 0-3). Rebounds—Gonzaga 23 (Strawther 6), San Francisco 40 (Shabazz 9). Assists—Gonzaga 14 (Timme 4), San Francisco 7 (Roberts, Shabazz 2). Total Fouls—Gonzaga 14, San Francisco 14. A—3,313 (5,300).