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Gonzaga’s defense shuts down another foe in win over Santa Clara

Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams (3) shakes hands with teammate Jordan Mathews (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Santa Clara Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara forward Emmanuel Ndumanya took a pass from KJ Feagin and dunked home two points in the final minute of the first half.

The significance? It finally gave Santa Clara more field goals (eight) than airballs (seven).

That’s how good Gonzaga’s defense was in the opening half and for a sizable portion of the second half in an 88-57 victory Thursday over the Broncos at the Leavey Center.

For most of the season it’s been this way. The Zags (18-0, 6-0 WCC) are still putting up the offensive numbers they’ve been known for since crashing the national scene nearly 20 years ago.

The defense has done its part most seasons, too, but perhaps never as effectively as this year’s crew.

“I’m really happy about our defensive performance,” said center Przemek Karnowski, who has anchored a few of GU’s quality defenses during his career.

“It’s good,” he said, when asked to compare this year’s defense with the previous ones. “I don’t want to go too far, but it’s good.”

GU entered the game sixth in field-goal percentage defense, ninth in 3-point percentage.

With few exceptions, the Zags have slowed or at least contained the opponent’s best option. The list includes San Diego State’s Trey Kell, Florida’s KeVaughn Allen and Devin Robinson, Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, Tennessee’s Robert Hubbs, Loyola Marymount’s Brandon Brown and Saint Mary’s Jock Landale.

Kell made 4 of 15 shots. Allen and Robinson were fairly productive, but neither hit 50 percent of their shots. Same deal for Morris. Markkanen had 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Hubbs scored 10 points, well below his scoring average.

Fultz had 25 points, the vast majority coming long after the outcome was in question.

Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge got his points against the Zags, finishing with 23. He hit two early 3-pointers, but also launched two airballs. It was 32-12 when Brownridge hit two more 3s.

He had another scoring burst to open the second half. He didn’t score in the final 14:30.

“We did a good job hitting our coverages because we changed some things up,” coach Mark Few said.

  • Also today: Three keys from GU’s 88-57 win over Santa Clara.

Brownridge did some damage but the Zags didn’t yield much to the rest of the Broncos. KJ Feagin had 13 points but was 4 of 14 from the field. Matt Hauser had just five points. Nate Kratch finished with two points, eight below his average.

“The game plan was to switch 1 through 4 on ball screens and pin-downs and we did a great job of focusing in,” guard Josh Perkins said. “We wanted to make shots tough for him. I think we did that.”

The Spokesman-Review