SAN DIEGO — Hank Egan's new, tougher and more durable version of the University of San Diego basketball team took on Gonzaga Saturday night in the USD Sports Center, but after things ran afoul during the first half, USD wound up on the short end of a 78-73 split decision in front of 1,020 fans.
There weren't any knockdowns or bloodied jerseys, but there were seven players disqualified because of fouls and enough of them scattered on the floor during the game that it seemed somebody had lost a wallet or a contact lens.
In the end, USD could look upon a poor first half as the reason for its eighth loss in 10 conference games. The Toreros (10-13, 2-8) trailed, 42-25, at halftime, and though they rallied gamely, they still fell short.
As Dan Fitzgerald, Gonzaga's coach, said, "I guess you could say we hung on in the later rounds."
The early ones belonged to the Bulldogs (12-11, 3-7), who took advantage of 15 USD fouls in the first half for a 16-0 edge at the free-throw line.
The battle raged on in the second half, and when it was all over, 59 fouls had been called. Gonzaga attempted 54 free throws (making 39), one short of the West Coast Athletic Conference record for attempts.
"It was the most intense game we've been a part of all season," Egan said. "But in the first half, we weren't quite sure what was going on. It was physical, and it took us time to realize what we had to do."
In the second half, USD was less cautious and pressured Gonzaga into 10 turnovers while working its way back into the game.
John Sayers, who led USD with 19 points, hit three jumpers in a three-minute span to end a 29-17 Toreros run that made it 70-64 with 2:59 remaining.
At the 1:04 mark, Danny Means made a three-pointer to cut USD's deficit to 72-70, but 3 free throws by Danny Roe and 1 by Darryl May kept Gonzaga in front, 76-73, with 11 seconds remaining.
Roe then missed a free throw, and Sayers had a chance to tie for USD, but his three-pointer bounced off the front of the rim with two seconds left. Doug Spradley, who led all scorers with 27 points, hit two free throws to account for the final margin.
Roe added 20 and May, who came into the game averaging 0.9 points per game for Gonzaga, added 11.