Zags clinch at least a share of WCC crown

Back with the expanded game story from Gonzaga's 88-51 drubbing of Santa Clara on Thursday. The unedited version is below. Check back tomorrow morning for a day-after post.

By Jim Meehan; (208) 765-7131

This one looked nothing like the first go-around.

Gonzaga dominated from start to finish, flattening Santa Clara 88-51 Thursday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center to clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference men’s basketball championship and the top seed in conference tournament in Las Vegas. The Bulldogs needed a 26-6 finishing kick to rally past Santa Clara 71-64 on the road last month.

Junior guard Steven Gray made his first four shots, three of those from beyond the 3-point arc, en route to 19 first-half points as No. 18 Gonzaga led 41-15 at intermission. Gray finished with 26 points, one short of his career high, and grabbed six rebounds.

“It makes the game a lot easier,” Gray said. “It makes it a lot more fun when everyone is hitting.”

Gonzaga (23-5, 11-2) has won 10 consecutive WCC titles, tied for the second longest streak in NCAA Division I history. The Bulldogs can claim an outright championship with a win over San Francisco on Saturday. The Dons upset GU 81-77 in overtime last month.

“It feels great,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Obviously we don’t want to share it with anybody, so Saturday’s big. It just shows what an amazing group of guys we’ve had come through and the amazing staff I’ve been able to keep with me. That (10 straight titles) and the NCAA run are the two greatest things we’ve been able to do.”

Gray had 13 points as Gonzaga bolted in front 20-7 with the game just seven minutes old. The Bulldogs scored the last nine points of the half to open up a 26-point bulge.

“It’s the puzzle,” center Robert Sacre said of Gray’s torrid shooting. “He’s working on like a 1,000-piece puzzle. It must be stimulating his mind.”

Well, not quite. Gray said he started working on the puzzle at the house he shares with Sacre because he was bored on a Sunday. Sacre’s dogs have been banned from Gray’s room for fear they’ll wreck the puzzle.

Gonzaga, which struggled with Santa Clara’s physical play in the first meeting, opened the second half with a 19-6 run to take a 60-21 lead. The margin swelled to 41 with 5:11 remaining.

“We came out stronger, hit them first and we were the aggressor,” forward Kelly Olynyk said. “The got up into us, pressured us and it took us out of our game (in January). It affected us at both ends of the floor.”

Sacre scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Elias Harris added nine as Gonzaga had a 50-20 edge in points in the paint. Matt Bouldin offset a subpar shooting night with five assists, four rebounds and three assists. Bol Kong scored 12 points, all in the second half, Eleven players scored and none of the starters played more than 27 minutes.

It was Gonzaga’s defense that paved the way for the blowout. Santa Clara (11-19, 3-10) made just six field goals in the first half. The Broncos’ shooting percentage was in the 20s most of the night before they finished at 34 percent. Santa Clara had 15 turnovers, which GU converted into 22 points.

Freshman guard Robert Smith, who had 13 points in the January meeting, was 0 of 10 and didn’t score. Marc Trasolini and Niyi Harrison each had 13 points to lead the Broncos.

“We were fired up for this game and it goes back to the defense,” Sacre said. “It’s a defensive year for us. When we play defense, we’re great.”

Gonzaga made 57.4 percent of its shots and dominated the rebounding, 43-28.

“It’s exactly how you would hope they’d come out when they’re playing for a league championship at home on the last weekend,” Few said.




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