Gonzaga Bulldogs

Gonzaga starts slowly, still tops Cal Poly

The 12th edition of the Battle of Seattle played out accordingly Saturday, leaving Gonzaga still rolling along but not without a few issues to sort out entering West Coast Conference play.

Except for being torched for brief stretches by drive-and-score guard David Nwaba, the Zags’ defense was what won out Saturday, netting a 63-50 victory over Cal Poly in front of 11,741 at the KeyArena.

Nwaba scored 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting. The rest of the Mustangs sank 11 of 37 field goals.

It was the Zags’ 10th victory by double digits — and they held the Mustangs to a Battle in Seattle low for points, eclipsing the 52 Kansas State tallied in 2012.

Gonzaga (11-1) has won four consecutive games in Seattle, and opens conference play Dec. 27 at BYU.

“(Cal Poly) is a tough out. They battle you,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “The Nwaba kid is a tough guard. I like that we weathered a lot of storms.”

The Mustangs certainly fit the hard-nosed, relentless personality of their coach — Enumclaw’s Joe Callero, who also has been the coach at Highline Community College, the University of Puget Sound and Seattle University.

And as much as Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 big man Przemek Karnowski dominated the interior in the first half, eventually finishing with 16 points, the Zags never could pull away like they have in so many other victories.

Callero’s ever-changing trapping defenses were a big reason why, forcing 16 turnovers — nine coming in the second half.

“I thought what (our 1-3-1 zone defense) would do is at least take the ball out of Karnowski’s hands,” Callero said. “We can’t let them … go in there,”

After three consecutive Zags’ turnovers, Cal Poly closed to 38-34 on Nwaba’s bucket with under 14 minutes remaining.

But Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos buried a 3-pointer to snap an 8-0 Mustangs run. He also scored 16 points.

“It was ugly,” said Zags guard Gary Bell Jr, a former Kentridge standout. “When we played Georgia, we had the same kind of outcome. … We play games like that, and today we came out with a win.”

Few said his players will have a short break, but will return to school on Christmas Eve for practice. The coach said it was the first time in his career he hasn’t give his team the full holiday off.

“The league kind of forced our hands,” Few said.