LAS VEGAS – There generally isn’t a precise turning point in a 35-point victory, but there were a couple of plays that symbolized Gonzaga’s 94-59 dismantling of Santa Clara in the WCC men’s tournament semifinals Sunday at the Orleans Arena.
Both revolved around GU senior guard Jeremy Pargo. The first came with the Bulldogs leading by four with 7:10 remaining in the first half. Austin Daye missed a pair of free throws and the Broncos appeared poised to grab the rebound until Pargo jetted in and snatched the loose ball. The hustle play led to Matt Bouldin’s 3-pointer and a competitive game took on the first signs of a blowout.
About four minutes later, Pargo poked the ball away from Santa Clara rebounding machine John Bryant and chased it down. With nobody in pursuit, Pargo continued into the corner and buried a 3-pointer. He followed that up with another 3-pointer 30 seconds later and Gonzaga was on its way to handing the Broncos their worst WCC tournament loss.
“Anytime you can make extra possessions for your team it’s always good,” said Pargo, who had 14 of his 16 points in the first half as Gonzaga took command 48-27, to the delight of the vast majority of the 7,845 in attendance.
“We were kind of hanging in at 25-21 and they missed the two free throws and there was a loose ball we couldn’t come up with,” said Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, whose fourth-seeded club finished 16-17. “It seemed like it kind of deflated our guys a little bit.”
There was non-stop deflation ahead. The Bulldogs never slowed down on offense and their defense kept forcing turnovers, which often led to dunks or layups at the other end.
The 14th-ranked Bulldogs (25-5), who handed Santa Clara its worst WCC loss (95-53) in Spokane in mid-January, will play for the WCC title for the 12th straight season. They’ll take on second-seeded Saint Mary’s, which defeated Portland 71-61 in the other semifinal.
“We played great on both ends,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “We really wanted to establish this on the defensive end and see if we could get out and get the break going, play at our pace instead of theirs. To a man, the guys executed perfectly.”
Pargo made his first five shots. Daye collected 13 of his career-high 28 points in the first 20 minutes. His aggressive drives to the basket resulted in three trips to the free-throw line, where he made 4 of 6. Daye was 6 of 6, including two 3-pointers, from the field in the second half.
“He played with confidence,” senior forward Micah Downs said of Daye, whose point production had dropped off over the last half of the WCC regular season. “When he does that and he’s hitting 3s, he’s virtually unstoppable because of his ability to take people off the dribble and also to post up.”
Gonzaga forced 22 turnovers from the team with the worst turnover margin in the conference. Bryant, the player of the year coming off a 24-point, 27-rebound effort against San Diego, finished with another double-double, but it went virtually unnoticed. He had one field goal in the first half. He finished with 13 points, four coming after the Bulldogs’ lead had swelled to 32 midway through the second half.
Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt was quiet offensively, too, but he was effective defending Bryant.
“Gonzaga likes to dig down with their guards, that’s really why I wasn’t that aggressive because I couldn’t dribble the ball,” Bryant said, adding that Heytvelt “did a good job.”
On the offensive end, Gonzaga had 21 assists – seven from Bouldin and five each from Pargo and Demetri Goodson – while committing only 11 turnovers. It was Gonzaga’s highest assist total since distributing 22 against Pepperdine on Jan. 22.
“One of the things we really focus on is trying to get our break going against teams that want to slow it down,” Pargo said. “Once we get our break going it’s really hard to beat us when we’re playing like that and having fun.”
Saint Mary’s 71, Portland 61: Patty Mills scored 12 points in his rough return from a five-week absence with a broken hand, but Saint Mary’s rallied around its star guard for a victory over Portland.
The Gaels advanced to meet Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament final.
Diamon Simpson had 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Omar Samhan added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the second-seeded Gaels (25-5), who realize their NCAA tournament hopes could come down to tonight’s meeting with the top-seeded Zags.
Mills, the Gaels’ Australian sophomore point guard, hadn’t played since breaking two bones in his hand Jan. 29. The rust was obvious in his 3-for-12 shooting and three turnovers, but his playmaking noticeably picked up in a turnover-free second half as Saint Mary’s got rolling in the final minutes of its sixth consecutive victory.
Saint Mary’s has scheduled a home game with Eastern Washington on Friday, hoping to get Mills more in game shape prior to its possible NCAA tournament appearance.
Gonzaga 94, Santa Clara 59
|Santa Clara (16-17)||Min||M-A||M-A||O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .440. FT .615. 3-Point Goals: 7-15, .467 (Rahon 4-7, Foster 3-8) Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 1 (Bryant). Turnovers: 22 (Foster 5, Bryant 2, Dowdell 3, Santos 6, Rahon 2, Trasolini 3, Thompson) Steals: 2 (Foster, Santos). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .559. FT .789. 3-Point Goals: 13-22, .591 (Downs 4-5, Daye 3-4, Bouldin 3-6, Pargo 2-3, Gray 1-3, Sorenson 0-1) Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 2 (Heytvelt, Daye). Turnovers: 11 (Heytvelt, Bouldin 2, Daye, Foster 2, Gray, Goodson 2, Pargo, Downs) Steals: 14 (Heytvelt 2, Bouldin 3, Daye, Foster, Gray 3, Goodson, Pargo 3). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime– Gonzaga 48, Santa Clara 27. A–7,845.