SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The last three times Santa Clara and Gonzaga have met at the Leavey Center, the Broncos got the better of the Bulldogs for 30 minutes, 35 minutes, even 39 minutes and change – and still lost.
On Thursday, Santa Clara went the distance, relying on sophomore guard Kevin Foster’s 11 consecutive points in the closing minutes to upset Gonzaga 85-71 in front of crowd of 4,017, many of whom stormed the court after the Broncos’ first home victory over GU in men’s basketball since February 2001.
Foster scored 24 of his career-high 36 points in the second half. He made four 3-pointers in the final 5-plus minutes. He had a couple of momentum-turning steals and he dished out five assists.
“He was superb,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “And a lot of them were tough shots, but as we told our team he’s capable of hitting closely guarded shots.”
Gonzaga’s nine-game winning streak came to an end with a performance that reminded Few of the Zags of late November and early December.
“It’s life on the road in college basketball,” Few said. “We turned it over and we didn’t defend well and we didn’t rebound well. Those are things that when we played poorly early in the season or lost tough games early, it was because we turned the ball over too much and we didn’t consistently defend.”
Santa Clara made 54 percent of its shots in the second half. The Broncos (11-9, 2-2) hit 54.5 percent of their second-half 3-pointers, led by Foster’s 5 of 9 from long distance.
“I’m a shooter so I’m confident in my shot,” Foster said. “I was getting good looks, they just weren’t going down at first. I started making a couple of shots and I started feeling better about myself.”
Both teams encountered serious foul problems as they combined for 49 fouls and 64 free throws. Gonzaga’s Steven Gray picked up his fourth foul with 9:24 left and went to the bench with Gonzaga on top 59-56 after David Stockton’s 3-pointer. By the time Gray returned with 6:36 left, the Bulldogs trailed 65-63.
Seconds later Foster hit the first of his four late 3s and SCU’s lead was five. Gray was fouled on 3-point attempt and made all three free throws, cutting the deficit to two, but Foster buried a 3, then another as the Broncos began to pull away.
“The guy has taken 20 3s in a game before,” said Gray, who led GU with 17 points, but made just 3 of 9 field-goal attempts. “They do a great job of finding him. You can definitely see it’s something they spend a lot of time on.”
Gray started out defending Foster, but he wasn’t available for portions of the game due to foul trouble. Mathis Keita and Manny Arop also took turns guarding Foster, but the Broncos’ guard worked off screens to create space for his shots.
All five Santa Clara starters scored in double figures.
“If you want to establish yourself in this league, Gonzaga has proven that you have to do it through them,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “They’ve stood the test of time and set the bar, and that bar is pretty high. We’ve been close (against Gonzaga), not just at home but even at the conference tournament. They played well, we played a little better and that’s the way the game goes.”
Gonzaga (13-6, 3-1 WCC) never led in the first half. Santa Clara set the tone by scoring the game’s first seven points. The Bulldogs, with a nice lift off the bench from Stockton and Keita, pulled even twice late in the half, but Marc Trasolini’s basket gave the Broncos a 38-36 lead at half.
The Bulldogs took the lead on several occasions in the second half, but they couldn’t string a run together because they couldn’t get defensive stops, or, when they did, they gave up critical offensive rebounds.
“We kept giving them cracks at it,” Few said.
The Bulldogs shot 47.6 percent, but their 19 turnovers were converted by Santa Clara into 22 points.