Gonzaga’s single-game record for field-goal percentage was in jeopardy against Santa Clara. And so was the outcome of the game.
Yup, that sounds odd. When the Zags stopped turning the ball over and found their defense, they pulled away from the stubborn Broncos 77-63 for their 16th straight victory.
Read on for my day-after post.
--At one point last night I tweeted that I was curious if a team has ever shot 72% from the field and trailed by 4 in the second half. Dunno, but AP’s Josh Dubow searched AP’s data base and tweeted back: “I do know that no team since 96-97 has shot better than 67.4% for game and lost.”
It brought to mind GU’s Sweet 16 game against high-powered North Carolina in 2009. Here was my lead to that game: “To put North Carolina’s explosive offense into perspective, consider that Gonzaga was shooting 85.7 percent – 85.7 percent – from the field roughly 7 minutes into the first half and still trailed by three points.”
N.C. went on to win, 98-77, and cruised to the national championship.
Back to last night. The Zags finally reeled in Santa Clara in the second half and their offensive numbers were off the charts: 69% FG, 5 of 6 on 3s (83.3%). Their season high was 67.7 percent against St. Thomas Aquinas.
GU’s school record is 71.8 percent, set against Saint Mary’s in 1996. Last night’s 69% is No. 7 on the list.
--Eric McClellan played just 24 seconds in the first half, but he had his most meaningful minutes of the season in the second.
The junior guard, who became eligible Jan. 6 but didn’t see his first game action until Jan. 22 because of a foot injury, didn’t score a point but his defense on Santa Clara guard Jared Brownridge was one of the key factors in GU’s decisive second-half run.
Brownridge was held in check early by Gary Bell Jr., but the sophomore scored SCU’s last 12 points of the first half, giving the Broncos a 36-34 lead. The talented guard was at it again in the second half, making a 3-pointer and a reverse layup to boost SCU’s lead to 46-40.
McClellan took a turn on Brownridge and GU was able to slow Santa Clara’s offense. Brownridge went scoreless for more than nine minutes and his teammates came up with a lone free throw and a 3-pointer during that stretch. GU grabbed a 60-50 lead.
“Eric got some valuable minutes and did a great job helping us wear down Brownridge,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s just a great player and in this building sometimes he makes magical shots. Gary was gassed chasing him around everywhere. To be able bring in an athlete and tough guy like Eric really helped and we were able to come back to Gary down the stretch.”
I chatted with McClellan at Tuesday’s media day and he told me he’s still limited to 20-25 minutes at practice. He said a couple weeks ago he was probably at 30%. He bumped that figured to 50-55 on Tuesday.
“It’s progressing,” McClellan said.
--It’s the topic that never goes away: Is this the best of Few’s 16 Gonzaga teams?
I didn’t have time post-game to interview Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating -- have I mentioned I really love 8 p.m. starts? -- but friend and colleague Steve Kroner of the San Francisco Chronicle and I exchanged Few and Keating quotes.
Keating believes GU’s 2009 team, which lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16, was better than the current crew.
“Everybody nationally wants to talk about, “This is Mark’s best team.” I’ve heard that 15 years in a row, eight years in a row here,” Keating said. “They are what they are. They’re always going to be good. They have good players. They’re always going to have good players. They have a good program, a great athletic department. It just speaks for itself. It’s kind of pointless to compare teams.”
--Interesting night for Kevin Pangos. He didn’t attempt a shot until more than five minutes had passed by in the second half. He made that one, a 3-pointer, and never attempted another shot. He later added a pair of free throws to finish with five points.
But he still had a major impact on the game. Pangos finished with six assists and one turnover. He logged a team-high 37 minutes. He also had another strong defensive effort against SCU’s Brandon Clark, who averages a team-high 16 points. Clark went 4 of 14 from the field and scored 10 points. He did have five assists.
Clark struggled in Spokane, too, going 2 of 9 FG and finishing with 7 points.
--Wiltjer, as mentioned in the game story, apologized for his dunk in the closing seconds. He followed it up with a pair of tweets to @SCUHoops a few hours after the game.
STATS OF NOTE
--GU trailed 36-34 at half, just the second time this season the Zags have been behind at halftime. Southeastern Louisiana led Gonzaga 33-32, but was outscored by the Zags 44-24 in the second half.
--Byron Wesley had one of his best games of the season. He was 7 of 10 FG, scored 17 points, grabbed seven boards and had three assists and one steal.
--Santa Clara finished with just seven turnovers, six of those in the second half.
--Colville High grad Matt Hubbard, who had 15 points on five 3-pointers in Spokane, made a pair of 3s and finished with 10 points.
Wesley: “Teams are going to have to pick and choose who they guard. On certain possessions they decided to double the bigs. When they do that, the coaches tell me to cut to the hoop and I was able to get layups.”
Bell (on chasing Brownridge through screens all over the floor): “I’m a little tired but it’s all in a day’s work. I’m used to it and I know what I have to do.”
Few: “We try to pinpoint where we have advantages and guys are selfless enough to go to those things and not get too hung up on personal agendas. Today it was going through the post, we had good matchups there and they were really face-guarding Kevin.”
Keating: “We had a great opportunity. If we get a shot at them again at the Orleans (in the WCC tournament), maybe we’ll lessen (the margin) again to the tune of winning the game. We’ll see.”
Few: “Every one of those 10 (first-half turnovers) were unforced. We talked about that and tightening up the defense. To these guys’ credit, they took it to heart.”
Few on Sabonis: “We had high expectations. I think what you saw tonight is what we envisioned from him. He got some big-time rebounds down the stretch with all kinds of bodies in there and he came out” with the ball.