There have been easier, prettier and bigger victories in Gonzaga head coach Mark Few’s 15 seasons, but this one sent the satisfaction meter soaring.
With their top three scorers battling injuries, the Bulldogs went deep into the bench and deeper into their resolve and pulled away from Santa Clara 74-60 in the WCC opener for both teams in front of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The 24th-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) leaned on David Stockton’s career-high 21 points and four steals. Kevin Pangos, who exited for about 3 1/2 minutes in the second half after aggravating a toe injury, added 17 points.
Sam Dower Jr. (back) didn’t play. Gary Bell Jr. injured his right hand in the first four minutes and played just 16 minutes. He was taken for X-rays after the game.
Multiple players made an impact on a night when Gonzaga needed everyone on its roster. Przemek Karnowski had 10 points and eight boards. Drew Barham had eight points and four rebounds in his second career start. Angel Nunez, who recently became eligible, added eight points, three rebounds and three blocks in his first stint for the Bulldogs.
“We’re obviously not clicking on all cylinders,” Few said. “I told them (in the locker room) I’m really proud of them. We had to dig deep and get to about option ‘E’ or ‘F’ and we found a way to do that.”
Few turned to lineup combinations he hasn’t even seen in practice. At one point in the first half, Luke Meikle was at center (and scored two points and grabbed a rebound) with Nunez at the ‘4’ and Barham at the ‘3’. Late in the game, Nunez stepped in at center. Ryan Edwards, playing in just his second game, chipped in two points, two rebounds and a blocked shot.
“You can’t sit back and be like, ‘Wow, this is a weird lineup,’ ” said wing Kyle Dranginis, who contributed six rebounds and four assists.
Gonzaga’s defense began driving down Santa Clara’s shooting percentage late in the first half, helping GU erase a 22-17 deficit and take a 31-26 halftime lead.
“We were proactive (defensively), which is what we weren’t at Kansas State,” Few said. “We turned them over, got our hands on balls. Drew was a catalyst with that, David was a big part of us making plays, even Angel.”
The Broncos (7-7) made 54 percent of their shots in the second half but two dry spells helped Gonzaga pull away. Santa Clara was held nearly 14 points below its season average of 73.7.
“It was four-point game and we took a bad shot,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “I talked to our guys that we can’t have shooting turnovers and we took one. We got a little bit hero-istic, if you will, and thought we could put a little knockout on them and it’s hard to do that here.”
Stockton triggered Gonzaga’s clinching run, extending a 51-49 lead to 63-50. He made a pair of free throws, Barham hit a layup and Pangos added two free throws. Two Stockton steals led to 3-pointers, one by Barham and the other by Pangos – the latter after Barham and Dranginis turned down open 3s to make the extra pass.
Stockton sealed it with baskets on three straight possessions in the final 2:40.
“Kevin goes out, Gary goes out, Sam’s been out, I’ve been here long enough I think I can recognize when lanes are open and it’s my time to make plays,” said Stockton, who had 15 second-half points on 5-of-6 shooting and 5 of 5 free throws.