SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’s easier said than done.
It’s one thing to dismiss a lopsided loss to Villanova, which just might be the best team in the country. It’s another to move on from a home loss to your conference rival after being outplayed in the closing minutes.
No. 13 Gonzaga wasn’t at its best Saturday, but it was good enough when it looked like Santa Clara was going to make things interesting. The Zags broke the Broncos’ spirit with 12 unanswered points midway through the second half to claim a 75-60 victory in front of 5,011 at the Leavey Center.
It was the facility’s second-largest crowd, trailing only the 5,092 in attendance for Gonzaga in 1999 when it was named Toso Pavilion.
The Zags (17-4, 7-1 WCC) improved to 4-0 in games after losses, none more bitter than Thursday’s 74-71 setback to Saint Mary’s.
“A lot of our guys have won a lot of games over the years,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’ve won championships, they’ve had their backs pressed against the wall before. They kind of understand you have to respond.
“It might not seem like a big thing to somebody on the East Coast, but that was a good response.”
It looked nothing like Gonzaga’s 101-52 blowout over the Broncos in Spokane last month, but SCU (7-13, 4-4) has made marked improvement. The Broncos played 40 minutes of zone in the first meeting. They went man in the rematch. Neither approach slowed down the Zags’ offense, but the Broncos gave a spirited effort and functioned better at both ends of the court.
Gonzaga’s trademark balance was simply too much for the Broncos. Josh Perkins canned three 3-pointers, made 6 of 7 shots and scored 17 points. Zach Norvell Jr. heated up in the second half, a flashback to several games earlier this season, to score 16 points and hand out seven assists. Rui Hachimura provided 16 points, two dunks and a coast-to-coast drive that he seems to pull off at least once a game.
Killian Tillie’s floaters were on target as he added 12 points and seven rebounds. Johnathan Williams finished with nine points, eight boards and three assists.
“They have so many weapons and they score inside and out, and even when they miss they get on the boards,” said Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek, whose team trailed by 27 at half of the December game. “They don’t have any weak links. There’s nobody that you can cheat off of to help on another guy.”
The Broncos trailed 54-46 with 11:15 left. Less than 4 minutes later, the Zags were in command 66-46. Hachimura and Williams each had four points and Norvell, who struck for 14 points in the second half, had a putback and an assist on Tillie’s dunk.
Starting guards Perkins, Norvell and Silas Melson and backup wing Corey Kispert struggled Thursday. On Saturday, Perkins and Norvell had 33 points, 11 boards and 11 assists. Melson was in foul trouble most of the second half and finished with five points.
“We’re a deep team,” Perkins said. “We didn’t really show it against Saint Mary’s. We played team basketball. Rui got to his spots, I got some shots, Snacks (Norvell), J3 (Williams). Si (Melson) struggled a little bit, but he’s been good all year.”
Norvell was effective in the first half, despite having just one field goal. He contributed five assists and four rebounds. He made all six of his second-half shots, including a tough runner on the baseline that gave GU a double-digit lead, 42-31, with 17:10 remaining.
It was pretty apparent he was white-hot a few minutes later when he fumbled a pass, collected the ball and drilled a 3-pointer in the defender’s face.
“I feel like I was moving 100 miles an hour in the first half. The coaches told me to slow down,” Norvell said. “The media thinks, ‘Oh, he can’t score in the first half.’ I just play my game. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
It happened, and the Zags maintained their 20-point lead until SCU scored the last six points in the final minutes.
“The coaches did a good job of leaving (Thursday) in the past. We can’t dwell on it,” Norvell said. “We can correct it. We still have a league championship to try to win. We get caught up in Thursday’s game and we come here and don’t play our best, so we have to put that behind us. We have a bunch of vets. They did a good job of getting us ready.”
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