Zags tough it out at Santa Clara
Fight back from 14-point deficit to tame upset-minded Broncos
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Gonzaga’s toughness was tested Thursday night.
And for the first 27 minutes of a physical contest with Santa Clara, the Bulldogs didn’t exactly achieve passing marks. But the Bulldogs strung together an impressive final 13 minutes and it was enough to wash away a 13-point deficit as Gonzaga escaped with a 71-64 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory in front of 4,700 at the Leavey Center.
The victory, Gonzaga’s 26th straight in WCC regular-season games, keeps the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (17-3, 6-0) at the top of the conference standings, one game ahead of Saint Mary’s. Santa Clara, which nearly pulled off its first win over a ranked opponent since upsetting No. 4 North Carolina in 2004, dropped to 9-14, 1-5.
Gonzaga was down by 14 points, 53-39, at the 15-minute mark. Adding to GU’s concerns: Freshman forward Elias Harris had to leave for a couple minutes with a twisted ankle and Steven Gray was seeing double after getting poked in the eye on a drive to the basket.
Both returned after short absences and, along with reserve wing Manny Arop’s key contribution, helped the Bulldogs lock down on the defensive end, limiting SCU to six points in the last 13 minutes.
“Deep down, I just think this is a tough team,” Gray said. “Whether we display all the time or not, we’re a team that’s going to dig down, especially after that Duke episode. We don’t want to let anything like that happen again to us. We’re going to fight, and that’s one of the big reasons we were able to pull this one out.”
The Bulldogs trailed 61-53 with 9:07 remaining, but Matt Bouldin’s two free throws started a 6-0 run. Gray was poked in his right eye and unable to take his free throws – “I was seeing two baskets,” he said later – so Arop filled in and made both shots. Harris added two more free throws and Gonzaga was within 61-59.
Michael Santos’ three-point play – Santa Clara’s only field goal in the last 9-plus minutes – restored the Broncos’ lead to five, but Gonzaga scored the last 12 points, capping an 18-3 run to the finish line.
Gray’s 3-pointer cut SCU’s lead to one and Arop’s tip-in gave Gonzaga the lead at 65-64 with 4:01 left.
“Manny made some huge plays on the defensive end for us,” head coach Mark Few said. “He kind of flipped the switch for us and we started defending a lot more aggressively. We just kind of settled down on both ends of the court.”
Robert Sacre made a jump hook in the lane to bump GU’s lead to 3. Santa Clara missed two 3-point attempts and Gray’s layup boosted Gonzaga’s lead to 69-64 with 21 seconds remaining. The Broncos turned the ball over and Bouldin’s layup capped the Bulldogs’ closing kick.
Bouldin and Gray each scored 19 points. Harris chipped in 16 points and 14 rebounds.
“They came out and punched us in the face, figuratively, and we didn’t react very well,” Few said. “They were way more aggressive than us at both ends. This team has been really good about handling the ranking and where we’re at. Santa Clara deserves a lot of credit. They were really taking it to us for about 30 minutes of that game.”
SCU was shooting at or above 50 percent for most of the game, but tailed off late to finish at 45 percent.
“We had them right where we wanted them,” said SCU forward Marc Trasolini, who scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers. “They made a run. We battled, but unfortunately they kept pushing and pushing and broke us by the end.”
Santa Clara set the tone early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first 95 seconds. The turnover-prone Bulldogs trailed by as many as 10, but closed within 36-33 on Gray’s 3-pointer with 55.6 seconds left. Robert Smith made a tough 10-footer over Harris with 27 seconds left to give SCU a 38-33 lead at the break.
“They hit a lot of tough shots; it wasn’t like we were playing terrible defense,” Bouldin said. “We just cranked it up a little bit later in the second half.”
Gonzaga had 12 turnovers in the first half, which essentially offset its 12-of-24 shooting from the field.
(13) GU 71, Santa Clara 64
Percentages: FG .481, FT .750. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Harris 0-1, Bouldin 1-2, Gray 2-6). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 7 (Arop 2, Olynyk 2). Turnovers: 17 (Harris 3, Gray 3, Olynyk 3). Steals: 9 (Bouldin 4). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .449, FT .765. 3-Point Goals: 7-14, .500 (Trasolini 4-6, Smith 1-3, Santos 1-1, Cowels 1-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 8 (Trasolini 5). Turnovers: 16 (Smith 5). Steals: 12 (Payne). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Santa Clara 38, Gonzaga 33.