LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga’s five-point lead vanished in a 24-second span, leaving the Bulldogs tied with 9.1 seconds left on the clock.
The Bulldogs drew up a play for Sam Dower Jr. to set a screen out front for David Stockton. The rest depended on how Santa Clara elected to defend the ball screen.
Stockton made the right read, weaved down the lane and hit a twisting layup with 1.4 seconds left to lift top-seeded Gonzaga past the Broncos 77-75 in the WCC tournament quarterfinals in front of 7,688 Saturday at Orleans Arena.
Stockton’s shot gave Gonzaga (26-6) a white-knuckle victory and a spot in the semifinals against No. 4 Saint Mary’s at 6 p.m. Monday at Orleans Arena. It also put an exclamation point on a memorable day for the Stockton family. David found out when he entered the locker room that sister Laura and Gonzaga Prep won a state title earlier Saturday.
“Pretty cool,” he said.
Stockton’s layup with 4:30 left put the Zags on top, 64-63, their first lead since 5:22 remained in the first half. He came around a Przemek Karnowski screen and the lane was virtually empty.
The paint was more crowded on his game-winner. He shed Jared Brownridge on Dower’s screen, but Denzel Johnson quickly switched.
“Just attack,” Stockton said, “and if they help, I have shooters (Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. on the wings.”
It was the second time this season that the Zags broke Santa Clara’s hearts. In late January, Dower’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds handed Gonzaga a 54-52 win.
This time, it was Stockton’s clutch shot and Dower’s clutch free-throw shooting that helped GU hold off the ninth-seeded Broncos (14-19).
Brownridge, a freshman guard who was the WCC newcomer of the year, blitzed Gonzaga with 12 of SCU’s first 14 points. He poured in 18 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that expanded Santa Clara’s lead to 37-29.
“Brownridge with that pull-up,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said, “I was telling Adam (Morrison) he’s the only kid I’ve seen since Adam that can hit that closely guarded shot.”
Dower made 10 free throws in the last 7 minutes, his confidence growing with each connection.
“I was trying to get to the line as much as possible,” said Dower, who finished 15 of 15 at the stripe to share the school record held by Frank Burgess and Geoff Goss and equal the WCC tournament mark.
Just when it appeared Gonzaga was safely in front, 75-70, Evan Roquemore had a three-point play and Bell was whistled for traveling. Brownridge buried a jumper to tie it.
Few opted to put the ball in Stockton’s hands.
“He has a real knack for kind of making plays at the end of games in all our situational things we do (in practice), a winning knack,” Few said. “That’s why I felt he was best guy to put in a full-court, ball-screen situation.”
Dower led GU with 23 points.