Skinner sparks Zags to Championship

Gonzaga wanted an undisputed West Coast Conference Championship; San Diego wanted a share of the championship. Something would have to give. It all unfolded before a hostile, overflowing crowd of 5100 in the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

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Tony Skinner's ankle has apparently fully recovered. He proved it against a San Diego team that was playing on its home court and had its eyes on a share of the WCC title. Tony put together his best game of the season, connecting on a game-high, and career-high 23 points. His timing could not have been better. Gonzaga had to overcome a deficit of 15 points from the foul line, as well as a lackluster 4-of-18 from behind the arc for the rest of the Zags. Tony's 6-for-7 3-point shooting was the offensive punch needed to complement a hustling defensive performance by the Bulldogs. The 72-69 win gives the Zags sole possession of the WCC crown, including a two game bye, automatically placing them in the semi-finals of the all-important WCC tournament next weekend (in San Diego).

Tony began the contest with a trey and would remain hot from beyond the arc throughout the night. After a Zach Gourde tip-in, San Diego retaliated by throwing the ball in, only for it to come out again for a three of their own. With the game tied at 7-7, Blake Stepp hit a three and was fouled for the first of two four-point plays the Zags would convert.

Neither team allowed the other to make a run. Skinner tied the game at 14-14 with another trey and pulled-off an acrobatic lay-in after a Reisman steal. Gonzaga's defense was intense as the Zags were flying, creating numerous steals and San Diego turnovers. A Kyle Bankhead jumper off the dribble triggered a Gonzaga run. Cory Violette fed Ronny Turiaf twice and Skinner sank yet another three, off of a cross-court, baseline assist from Stepp. Gourde's basket in the paint increased the lead to 29-21. But the Toreros came charging back and tightened the score to 31-27. The final play of the half came on a Reisman turnover, only for Josh to immediately steal it back. With the final seconds ticking away, Skinner launched one from beyond the arc and was fouled, creating the second four-point play for the Bulldogs, who took an impressive 39-29 lead into the locker room at the half.

The beginning of the second half was a shower of three pointers from both teams. A Blake three triggered the downpour. Two San Diego threes followed, but Blake answered by using a behind the back dribble to create space and quickly launching his three. Once more, San Diego connected on a trey only to have Tony respond with a three, returning the margin to ten points, 50-40.

Surviving the shower of threes was pivotal for the Zags. At the 12:45 mark, Blake was whistled for his second offensive-foul and his fourth personal foul, sending him to the bench. For the second game in a row Gonzaga faced a long span without their star guard. And for the second game in a row the Zags held their own without him. When Stepp returned at the 6:50 mark, the Bulldogs were ahead, 66-55. When Tony picked up his fifth foul with 4:30 remaining, Gonzaga was ahead 68-59. Gonzaga would only score one more field goal for the remainder of the game (an airborne put-back by Josh Reisman).

With 2:30 to go, Gonzaga held a 70-62 lead, but allowed it to slip away. The Zags went 2-8 from the charity line over the final 1:30, allowing the Toreros a chance to nearly steal the game. Ahead 71-69, Bankhead threw an errant in-bounds pass that was picked off by Jason Blair, who missed his three-point attempt that would have given San Diego the lead. A heady Reisman, tipped the rebound to half-court, where hustling Kyle Bankhead dove in to deflect the ball from a Torero. San Diego eventually did recover the ball deep in Zags' territory, but their up-court pass was intercepted by Blake Stepp who tossed it to Reisman, who was then fouled. With 2 ticks left, Reisman hit 1-2 free-throws to give the Zags a three point advantage and the win, 72-69.

Gonzaga collected their fifth WCC regular-season championship in six years. The Zags will return to San Diego next weekend and could face the Toreros in the championship game Monday night.

Zags Hoops congratulates 6'5" junior Wing Tony Skinner as the Red Lion Pub & BBQ Player of the Game.

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