It certainly wasn’t a textbook example on how to close a deal.
But Gonzaga, after building another seemingly safe lead midway through the second half, did enough decent things in the final minutes to hold off Santa Clara 78-73 Saturday night and retain its share first place in the West Coast Conference men’s basketball race.
The win came in front of a homecoming crowd of 4,017 that packed Martin Centre for the first time in almost two years and kept the Bulldogs, 17-6 overall, tied with Portland for the WCC lead at 6-2. Santa Clara (14-6, 5-3) dropped out of a three-way tie atop the standings, but won’t have to wait long for a chance to get back in the mix.
GU must turn around and travel to Santa Clara for a rematch this Friday, with Portland scheduled to invade the Broncos’ Toso Pavilion the following night. Payback will undoubtedly be an issue, but Bakari Hendrix, who led GU with 27 points and seven rebounds in Saturday’s win, isn’t shying away.
“Hey, let’s do it,” said the 6-foot-8 senior forward, who scored 12 of the Bulldogs’ first 15 points. “I don’t like waiting to play the team that expected to win the whole thing, so when you get them twice back to back, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Whatever happens this weekend, the Bulldogs would be ill-advised to count the Broncos out at any time, especially after the way they battled back Saturday night.
The Bulldogs, after opening a modest 38-32 halftime lead, drilled five 3-pointers during a 4-minute stretch of the second half to boost their advantage to 65-46 with 7:19 left. But Santa Clara, behind the outside sniping of Craig Johnson and foul shooting of Brian Jones, closed steadily and cut the deficit to 73-71 with less than a minute remaining.
The Bulldogs, who failed to score in the final 2 minutes, 43 seconds of regulation in Thursday night’s overtime win over San Francisco, didn’t make a field goal in the final 5:23 against the Broncos. But they never turned passive on offense, like they did against USF, and played through their shooting funk.
“I thought we were more proactive tonight in the last couple of minutes,” GU coach Dan Monson said. “We had some good looks that didn’t go in that could have closed it out, but I thought they were good shots.”
Matt Santangelo, who finished with 14 points, made five free throws in the final 5 minutes and Richie Frahm, who added 12 points, dropped in two foul shots with 7 seconds left to settle the issue.
“They had command of the game,” insisted Santa Clara coach Dick Davey. “We had a chance to get back into it, but they did some good things. They’re a smart team and they play hard.”
Hendrix scored only two points in the final 5 minutes against the Broncos’ physical front line.
Monson said the plan was to pound the ball inside to Hendrix all night.
“At the end when you have the lead, though, you don’t want to get stagnant with everybody looking for one guy,” he explained. “So we tried to run a little bit more continuity offense and he didn’t see (the ball) as much.”
Hendrix had a simpler explanation.
“They fouled me a little harder, that’s pretty much what happened,” he said. “I’m sure their coach chewed them out at halftime and told them to play me more physical and make the refs make a decision on whether they’re going to call it or not.
“And obviously, the refs decided they weren’t going to call a lot of that stuff.”
Gonzaga 78, Santa Clara 73
Santa Clara (14-6) - Jones 4-13 12-20 22, Fast 4-10 3-4 12, Dely 0-2 0-0 0, Johnson 7-15 3-4 18, Wusching 0-4 3-4 3, Holbrook 0-0 0-0 0, Gomes 1-1 0-0 2, Lopez 1-4 0-0 2, D’Oyen 2-4 0-0 6, Holmes 3-7 2-4 8. Totals 22-60 23-36 73.
Gonzaga (17-6) - Santagelo 3-11 5-8 14, Frahm 3-9 4-6 12, Dench 0-5 1-2 1, Hendrix 9-18 9-10 27, Leasure 1-4 2-2 4, Hall 3-6 2-2 10, Nilson 3-3 0-0 6, Calvary 1-2 0-0 2, Floyd 0-0 0-0 0, Griffin 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-60 23-30 78.
Halftime-Gonzaga 38, Santa Clara 32. 3-Point goals-Santa Clara 6-21 (Jones 2-6, D’Oyen 2-4, Fast 1-4, Johnson 1-6, Holmes 0-1), Gonzaga 7-21 (Santagelo 3-7, Frahm 2-5, Hall 2-5, Dench 0-2, Leasure 0-2). Fouled out-Santa Clara, Jones. Rebounds-Santa Clara 42 (Wusching 9), Gonzaga 42 (Hendrix 7). Assists-Santa Clara 9 (Jones 4), Gonzaga 17 (Santangelo 4). Total fouls-Santa Clara 22, Gonzaga 22. Technicals-Gonzaga, coach Monson. A-4,017.