Be honest. Part of you was hoping top-ranked Gonzaga would have a close, competitive West Coast Conference game this season.
Maybe not this close, not this competitive.
Well, for a little more than a half.
The Zags put together a 17-zip run over a 6-minute second-half stretch and ran away to a 69-55 victory before 3,500 at WCC rival Saint Mary’s.
Yes, it was Saint Mary’s and it was Moraga, California. When the schedule was announced, this last one, the end of the regular season, was probably highlighted in boldface in most Gonzaga fans’ phone calendars.
You know Sean Farnham had this ESPN assignment highlighted from the moment he learned of it. He got to head home.
What they saw …
• Farnham, the Spokane-loving analyst, got to do a game in his former backyard (he attended nearby De La Salle High), and with partner Roxy Bernstein, one of ESPN’s most visible West Coast play-by-play voices.
The duo has done Gonzaga games this year, so they’ve seen the best inside pair in the nation, Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura.
And they gushed over both.
Hachimura did what he does. He kept the Zags in the game early and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.
But it was Clarke who turned the tide in the second half as he continued to cement his place in Farnham’s hall of fame, 2019 edition.
And he had his reasons.
“Brandon Clarke got the rebound, drove it straight up the floor and put the opposing big in a position they are not accustomed to, having to guard an attacking center,” he said after Clarke’s first basket of the game.
The 6-foot-8 post’s leaping ability is what Farnham loves the most, however. The hops on the defensive end – Clarke had his seemingly usual four blocked shots – and the offensive end, where he had the same number of dunks, including two hammers in the game-deciding run.
“He’s really putting a hurt on that rim, isn’t he?” Bernstein asked after his last one.
Clarke finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
• Josh Perkins made his final visit to the Saint Mary’s bandbox, and he seemed to want to remember it fondly.
The senior guard, who wrote his name in the Gonzaga record book atop the career assists list last month, was the one Bulldog who seemed to relish the atmosphere.
He finished with 19 points and two assists, but there was more. He worked hard on every defensive possession, mainly chasing Gaels leading scorer Jordan Ford. And in a place that can cause visiting teams to lose their focus, Perkins kept the Zags (29-2 overall, 16-0 in the West Coast Conference) under control.
“I like the way he is playing composed,” Farnham said, before shifting his focus to Perkins’ goal. “An opportunity to come into this building once again and walk out with a win.”
What we saw …
• There was something wrong the McKeon Pavilion – that seems a loose use of the word – floor, especially early on.
In the first 6 minutes, four players – Bulldogs and Gaels (20-11, 11-5) alike – slipped on two-foot stops, resulting in three travel calls. There was also a stop in play when Zach Norvell Jr. slipped on a wet spot near halfcourt.
The slick floor struck again just before halftime when Perkins slipped on his way to the hoop. Before he hit the floor, he tossed the ball toward the basket. It somehow found its way over the rim and through the net.
Everyone, including Norvell, who slipped badly on the next defensive possession, seemed OK, but it seemed only a matter of time before someone got injured.
Sideline reporter Molly McGrath may have had a reason for the seeming condensation.
“People at home may not realize how hot it is here,” she said midway through the second half. “I’m sweating and so are the Gonzaga players.”
• The win pushed the Zags’ winning streak to 20 and their conference road winning streak to 32. They also posted their fifth perfect WCC regular season.
• One West Coast official most coaches are not happy to see when they walk into a tough environment showed up in Moraga.
Michael Greenstein was part of a crew with another veteran, Chris Rastatter, and Tom Nally.
It’s Greenstein who invites your eyes, mainly because he has an active whistle. His favorite call? It seems it’s the offensive one, the decision that calls for the most eye-catching signal.
It was Greenstein who made a majority of calls in the opening half that strangled the Gonzaga bigs. All three – Clarke, Hachimura and Filip Petrusev – picked up two fouls in the first 20 minutes, with Clarke sitting for more time than he played before halftime.
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