It was roughly a toss-up as to who enjoyed Gonzaga’s 95-53 rout of Santa Clara more Thursday – the 11 Bulldogs who spent the night running, defending, dunking and smiling or the 6,000 who filled the McCarthey Athletic Center and stayed to the end just to see what highlight was coming next.
Gonzaga dominated from the opening tip and never let off the throttle, crushing the Broncos with a 52-point first half and more of the same in the final 20 minutes. GU set a season high for points, coinciding with the most points allowed by the Broncos this season.
“That’s the type of ball we like to play,” senior forward Josh Heytvelt said. “You could tell watching the game (with) a lot of people smiling, yelling, clapping, hooting and hollering. From the first guy to the last guy, everybody had a pretty good game.”
The Bulldogs (11-4, 2-0 West Coast Conference) won their third straight as five players reached double figures, led by Austin Daye’s 20. Matt Bouldin had 16 points, Steven Gray 15 and Jeremy Pargo and Heytvelt each had 11.
Santa Clara (7-12, 0-3) suffered its worst WCC loss and its most lopsided defeat since falling to Ohio State 88-41 in December 2001. Standout center John Bryant scored just 12 points, five under his average, on 5-of-12 shooting.
Gonzaga made 9 of its first 11 shots to take a 25-10 lead. The margin swelled to 52-29 at half, with the Bulldogs holding a 20-0 edge in points off turnovers. Santa Clara’s nine turnovers unleashed GU’s running game.
“We turned the ball over too much, as we’ve been doing, unfortunately,” Broncos coach Kerry Keating said. “We were very clear in our pre-game preparation that transition defense was the primary importance, which it always is with us and even more so tonight. We didn’t get that message across.”
Daye, who spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls, poured in 13 points in 11 second-half minutes.
“Play a bad first half and come out on fire in the second,” said Daye, shaking his head. “It’s like a bad habit. I can’t even explain it.”
Nor is it easy to explain the physics of Ira Brown’s soaring one-handed dunk off Bouldin’s alley-oop pass in the second half, which drew the game’s loudest ovation. Brown seemed to hang in the air forever, then reached back behind his body to snag the ball and power it home.
“It was pretty much reaction,” Brown said. “We caught eyes and as soon as Matt released it I knew I had to go up and get it. I was getting lobs all the time in junior college. I was glad he was able to get it to me and I was able to deliver it.”
Senior walk-on Andrew Sorenson, another fan favorite, delivered a 3-pointer, and reserve center Will Foster had a nifty up-and-under move for a basket. Both plays brought the crowd to their feet in the final minutes.
“It was a blast out there,” Gray said.
Added Gonzaga coach Mark Few: “It was nice to have one of those. We haven’t had one of those like that for a while, to be able get everybody in. We were good on both sides of the ball.”
And, as the message on the grease board in Gonzaga’s locker room stressed, the Bulldogs won the rebounding battle for the first time in six games. Daye’s seven boards and Heytvelt’s six helped Gonzaga to a 46-29 edge.
“It seems like forever since we’ve done that,” Heytvelt said.
The Bulldogs entertain San Francisco on Saturday.