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Analysis: Strong defense, ball-handling spur Gonzaga’s rout over Santa Clara

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 30, 2017, 11:18 p.m.

On a night when Gonzaga cracked the 100-point mark for a school-record fifth time this season, offense seemed to be last thing on the Zags’ minds.

The concern areas of the last month often have been turnovers and team defense. They were strengths on the opening week of WCC play as the 20th-ranked Zags crushed Santa Clara 101-52 in front 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gonzaga (12-3, 2-0 WCC) had just seven turnovers and Santa Clara (4-10, 1-1) made just 38 percent from the field. Two nights earlier, GU committed seven turnovers and limited Pacific to 48 points on 33-percent shooting.

“Even in the second half (when Gonzaga led by as many as 52), we played the game the right way,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “It was a good weekend for taking care of the ball and for our defense. Our DERs (defensive efficiency rating) were low.

“We really wanted to guard the 3-line and the guys did a nice job.”

The offense didn’t take the night off. The Zags shot 54.5 percent and dropped 13 3-pointers against Santa Clara’s zone defense. Silas Melson’s 19 points led seven Zags, including four bench players, in double figures.

Jeremy Jones scored 11 points in 12 minutes. Rui Hachimura, who registered his third consecutive game in double digits, had 11 points in 16 minutes. Killian Tillie probably would have been the eighth player to score at least 10 points, but he missed several minutes after twisting his ankle. He said later it was “nothing big.”

“Sharing the ball, don’t care who scores, just passing and doing the extra pass,” Tillie said. “It’s fun to play like that.”

Gonzaga had four 100-point games in the 1963-64 season.

The craziest stat belonged to Santa Clara, which probably set some type of record by shooting 50 percent from the field for most of the first half and still trailing by 20-plus points.

That’s because Gonzaga’s shooting percentage was hovering in the 60s and the Broncos’ couldn’t stop a flood of turnovers. They had 21 turnovers, leading to 33 GU points.

“We had to come with a mature approach,” GU guard Zach Norvell Jr. said. “We had a good defensive outing the last game and we wanted to bring it over to today.”

Gonzaga scored the first 15 points and Santa Clara (4-10) never mounted a response. The Zags led 52-25 at the break.

The Zags had 28 assists, tied for third on the program’s all-time list. Josh Perkins and Norvell Jr. each had eight assists and Corey Kispert had four.

In two conference games, Gonzaga has 42 assists and 14 turnovers.

Norvell said Few offers frequent reminders about the importance of taking care of the ball.

“I think the guards are slowing down a bit, letting the game come to us, not trying to force anything,” Norvell said.

“Stopped trying to hit home runs out of the gate,” Melson said. “Start off with singles. If the rhythm takes you to hit a home run every now and then you might get to do that, but singles is what wins games.”

Santa Clara struggled mightily in the nonconference, but it did have decent offensive numbers (72.3 points, 44-percent field goal, 36-percent on 3-pointers). Gonzaga took away the 3-point shot, one of the Broncos’ preferred scoring options, and shut down the interior.

Junior guard KJ Feagin scored just nine points, well less than his 18.7 average. He had six assists but committed four turnovers. Henry Caruso, who averages 13.6 points, finished with six.

“Just take away his initial 3-point shots,” Melson said of Feagin. “He shoots about seven a game. He’s a pretty volume shooter and once he hits one he might hit six. As a team, just be in the gaps and help.”

Gonzaga has won 16 straight against the Broncos, who endured their most lopsided defeat in the 90-game series.


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