SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The only thing similar to the first meeting was the fact that Gonzaga won.
Other than that, the Bulldogs were pushed throughout by Santa Clara before using a couple of late surges – and a helping hand or two from a rowdy crowd of 4,700 at the Leavey Center – to hold off the Broncos 81-73 in a men’s basketball game Thursday.
No. 17 Gonzaga (22-5, 13-0 West Coast Conference) won its 20th straight regular-season conference game. The Bulldogs, who handed Santa Clara its worst conference loss in school history (95-43 in January in Spokane), can earn their third unbeaten WCC season in six years with a win at San Diego on Saturday.
“It was so different (than last month’s game), but any road game in our conference is going to be a lot different than at our place,” said junior guard Matt Bouldin, who hit 13 of 15 free throws and scored 23 points. “This is a huge win for us. They came out with nothing to lose. They knew all our calls. We were just really efficient down the stretch.”
Senior center Josh Heytvelt was efficient for 40 minutes. He poured in 29 points, breaking his career high of 28 set in Saturday’s win over Pepperdine.
“It’s these guys, the perimeters,” said Heytvelt, pointing at Bouldin. “I really appreciate when they can find me and they’re doing a great job of getting me easy shots.”
Both teams shot lights out for the first 30 minutes as Santa Clara took a 53-50 lead. The Bulldogs scored the next six points and a few minutes later added a 9-0 run to pull in front 67-58.
During the latter spurt, Santa Clara was assessed a technical foul after a fan tossed a plastic pop bottle onto the court. The incident came after Heytvelt had followed his miss with a putback while getting fouled by Ben Dowdell.
Bouldin hit both foul shots and Heytvelt completed his three-point play with a free throw to give GU a nine-point lead with 4:36 left.
“I had no idea what hit the (court), but it made a loud noise,” Heytvelt said. “Unfortunately, it was bad for Santa Clara. When things happen (to go) your way on the road, you need to take it.”
The Broncos were within 70-63 with 1:55 left when another object was tossed onto the court, drawing a second technical foul. Bouldin hit both free throws and Jeremy Pargo’s driving layup helped GU to a 75-63 lead.
Santa Clara (14-16, 6-7) closed within six points three times in the final 30 seconds, but Bouldin and Micah Downs combined to make 6 of 6 free throws.
Gonzaga entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally in field-goal percentage defense (36.8), but the Broncos found plenty of open looks and shot 46.8 percent, the highest percentage allowed by GU this season.
Freshman guard Kevin Foster led Santa Clara with 20 points, but he didn’t score in the last 14 minutes.
Senior center John Bryant and freshman wing James Rahon each had 16.
“Foster was great, Rahon was very good and Big John was going to work on us,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Few said. “Our guys ended up making a bunch of plays on offense to win it. Our defense wasn’t very good.”
Heytvelt made 12 of 17 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts. He also had a team-high nine rebounds. Downs added eight boards.
“Josh has been really efficient,” Bouldin said. “We’ve really tried to focus on getting him the ball down there. The way he’s playing, we’re going to keep on doing it.”
GU’s Austin Daye had 12 points and Pargo chipped in 10 points, five assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes.
Gonzaga 81, Santa Clara 73
Percentages: FG .529, FT .710. 3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Bouldin 2-5, Heytvelt 2-2, Daye 1-1, Pargo 0-2, Gray 0-1, Goodson 0-1, Downs 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Downs, Gray, Daye, Heytvelt). Turnovers: 12 (Daye 3, Bouldin 3, Gray 2, Downs, Goodson). Steals: 7 (Bouldin 2, Heytvelt 2, Gray, Daye, Pargo). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .468, FT .833. 3-Point Goals: 5-21, .238 (Foster 3-12, Rahon 1-6, Johnson 1-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Bryant 2, Johnson). Turnovers: 10 (Foster 3, Rahon 2, Bryant 2, Trasolini 2, Dowdell). Steals: 6 (Foster 3, Rahon, Petty, Thompson). Technical Fouls: Team 2.
Halftime–Gonzaga 36, Santa Clara 35. A–4,700.