SAN DIEGO (AP)—Bill Grier has brought a touch of Gonzaga to the University of San Diego.
Going to the NCAA tournament became a way of life during Grier’s 16 seasons on Gonzaga’s coaching staff. Now he’s got the Toreros in the field of 64 in his first season at the little hilltop Catholic school.
Rob Jones and De’Jon Jackson keyed a huge second-half run for the Toreros, who stunned No. 20 Gonzaga 69-62 to win the West Coast Conference tournament championship game Monday night and clinch their first NCAA tournament berth since 2003.
Showing no effects from needing two overtimes to beat Saint Mary’s on Sunday night, the scrappy Toreros (21-13) went on a 19-4 run in the second half to take control and give Grier a shocking win against his old boss, Gonzaga’s Mark Few.
“I’ve been trying to convince these guys that they can step up and beat Gonzaga if they play the right way,” Grier said. “This wasn’t about going to the tournament. It was about taking the next step and beating their program.”
That was something, considering USD had lost 13 straight to the Zags (25-7) since upsetting them in the 2003 tournament title game. Gonzaga had swept the Toreros in the season series five straight times, and beat them three times in the league tournament. Gonzaga is now 22-2 in the WCC tourney since 1999.
“I’m really happy for Billy,” Few said. “He’s like a brother. He’s done a great job with this team. They showed a ton of character and they fought through it to get that one back last night and it was a springboard for this game today.”
The Toreros trailed Saint Mary’s by 17 points in the first half and were down 13 with 7 1/2 minutes left.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” USD center Gyno Pomare said. “We had to come together as a group and believe. It took a while, but we finally made it happen and today we believe.”
Noting that the Toreros outrebounded the Zags 38-25, Few said: “We could not match their desire.”
Holding a comfortable lead in the final minute, the Toreros put an emphatic stamp on the upset. Pomare had a fast-break slam dunk with 25 seconds left, then pumped his fists after making two free throws. Trumaine Johnson had another slam with 7.9 seconds remaining and hung on the rim, drawing a technical foul.
The students then got their turn, rushing the court after the final buzzer and swarming at midcourt, delaying the trophy presentation ceremony for several minutes.
The Zags must now wait for an at-large invitation, which will be their 10th straight NCAA appearance. They were trying for their fifth straight league tournament title and ninth in 10 years.
By comparison, this is just the third trip to the NCAAs for USD.
Jackson scored 16 points, Jones 15 and Pomare 14, along with 10 rebounds.
Jeremy Pargo had 22 for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga took a 43-38 lead with 13:33 left on Josh Heytvelt’s one-handed shot from the key.
That’s when the Toreros got hot, going on a run that Jones finished with two free throws for a 57-47 lead with 5:52 left.
Jones had nine points in the run and Jackson six. Devin Ginty’s 3-point shot gave the Toreros the lead for good at 46-43, and Johnson hit a 3-pointer for a 49-45 lead.
The closest the Zags got down the stretch was six points.
Jones is the grandson of Jim Jones, the leader of the Jonestown jungle compound where more than 900 people were killed in 1978 in a mass murder-suicide.
Gonzaga was 0-for-9 from the 3-point line. It had gone 491 consecutive games with a 3-pointer since going 0-for-5 at Portland on Jan. 27, 1993.
“I have no clue on why that was,” Pargo said. “We had some open looks, but weren’t able to knock them down.”
The Toreros have won 13 of 15 games. Meanwhile, Gonzaga had its eight-game winning streak snapped.
USD had so much trouble with Gonzaga’s defense early in the game that it committed three shot-clock violations in the first 5 1/2 minutes.
The Toreros stayed close, though, and outscored the Zags 14-6 during a 6:25 stretch to take a 30-27 halftime lead.
“It feels great,” USD’s Brandon Johnson said. “Every time we got to the conference tournament, we knew who we had to get over. They knocked us out (three) years. With (Grier) coming in and knowing he was coming from Gonzaga, it was just believing what he said.”