It wasn’t quite a tale of two halves. It was a tale of the first 15 minutes – where Santa Clara led by five – and the last 25 minutes – where Gonzaga outscored the Broncos by 27.
The turnaround was sparked by familiar sources: Another dose of instant offense supplied by Sam Dower, another well-rounded effort by Gary Bell Jr. and another stellar defensive outing as the Bulldogs thumped the Broncos 82-60 in front of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Dower scored 17 points and Bell Jr. equaled his season high with 15 as the Bulldogs (13-2, 3-0 WCC) won their eighth straight game. Gonzaga’s three conference wins are by an average of 29.7 points, but the schedule toughens next week when the Bulldogs visit Saint Mary’s on Thursday and Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
Gonzaga’s dominating final 25 minutes helped erase the image of a strange sight at the MAC: The visiting team leading 10-0. A quick check of past MAC games showed that Stanford led Gonzaga 8-0 in 2006 before the Bulldogs rallied to win 80-76.
“They came out and surprised us and it took us a little while to wake up,” said junior forward Elias Harris, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. “Near the end of the half we just turned a switch and did what we always do: play hard, fly around and we took control.”
It started with GU’s defense as Santa Clara (8-7, 0-2) went scoreless on its last six possessions – three turnovers and three missed field-goal attempts. Meanwhile, Kevin Pangos made a jumper, Dower scored inside and the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward buried a 3-pointer, the last of his 11-first-half points, to give Gonzaga its first lead, 28-26.
The Zags used an 18-0 run to surge in front 48-31 with 13:09 remaining. Harris had six points, Pangos connected on consecutive 3s and Bell made a pair of layups before Roquemore fed Niyi Harrison for a dunk that ended a near 6-minute dry spell for the Broncos.
Santa Clara guards Kevin Foster (18.1 points per game) and Roquemore (14.5) fuel the offense, but both were limited to nine points. Roquemore, who had eight assists, was 4 of 16 from the field. Foster made 2 of 9 field goals and missed all four of his 3-point attempts. It was the first game this season he didn’t reach double figures.
“When you play good defense on somebody and they keep hitting hard shots, you just have to keep playing,” Bell said. “Today (Foster) just missed them. The big guys extended on the screens and he couldn’t get wide open looks. It helped me get back to contest his shots.”
When the Broncos were able to penetrate, Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre and Harris were there to contest shots. Sacre had four blocks and Harris two.
Raymond Cowels had 13 points and reserve guard Brandon Clark added 12 for Santa Clara, which made just 38.3 percent of its shots.
Gonzaga, which struggled early against SCU’s zone, made 20 of 29 shots (69 percent) in the second half and finished at 54.5 percent. The Bulldogs also flipped the rebounding totals. After trailing by one at half, GU won the glass 39-26.
“It took us a while to get a rhythm offensively,” head coach Mark Few said. “They were kind of switching defenses and junking it up a bit, but once our guys just started playing we were fine.”
Dower made 6 of 9 shots and 4 of 4 free throws. He’s averaging 13.5 points over the last eight games.
“My confidence has been rolling in this stretch and hopefully it continues,” Dower said. “Our passing was really good tonight.”