SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Brandon Clarke homecoming tour made its latest stop Thursday.
Clarke, who played his first two seasons at San Jose State roughly 4 miles from Santa Clara’s campus, probably couldn’t have scripted Gonzaga’s 98-39 rout over the Broncos any better.
Clarke won the opening tip, grabbed a couple of rebounds, made two strong defensive stands against Santa Clara’s Josip Vrankic and dunked home a nice pass from Rui Hachimura. The game was barely 4 minutes old.
Clarke finished with 12 points, six rebounds, two blocks and another rim-rattling dunk in the second half in front of numerous friends and family among the record crowd of 5,094 at the Leavey Center.
“My family lives about three hours from here,” Clarke said. “I was able to have my mom, step-dad, sister and brother, a couple of old teammates came by, couple of friends. It was cool to have them all come here.”
Clarke also had a reunion of sorts in Phoenix when the Zags lost to Tennessee in December. Clarke helped Desert Vista High of Phoenix reach the 2015 state title game.
Clarke put up big numbers in two seasons for San Jose State, but he demonstrated in Thursday’s blowout how much his game has evolved at Gonzaga.
“I’ve changed so much,” said Clarke, who averages 16.3 points and 7.7 boards. “Matured a lot, my body changed a lot, my game has a lot more confidence. I’ve obviously added a lot more to my game, changed my shot. I’ve just grown in many ways, all positive ways.”
The 6-foot-8 forward has fit seamlessly with the Zags.
“He’s such an easy guy to coach,” coach Mark Few said. “He just gives you great effort, no ego, no maintenance. He’s just been a joy to be around.”
Clarke has one more Bay Area trip when the Zags close the regular season against Pacific and Saint Mary’s. San Jose’s SAP Center is also one of sites for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Perkins gets last word
Josh Perkins has a pregame ritual of shooting alone at the basket opposite from his teammates after the opposing team exits for the locker room. At Santa Clara, that puts him within earshot of Santa Clara’s vocal student section.
In what’s become an annual give-and-take, the students taunt Perkins over his October 2016 arrest for physical control of a vehicle while under the influence and the senior point guard offers an occasional response of his own.
“They are harder (on him than other WCC opponents), but I love it. You know me,” Perkins said. “On the road, it puts an extra chip on our shoulder.”
The crowd chided Perkins after an airball from 35 feet in warm-ups. He quickly swished the next one from 40 feet. Perkins, who has had some of his best performances at the Leavey Center, finished with 18 points and eight assists. He posted 17 points and four assists last season and a career-high 26 points in 2015.
Schedule picks up
It has been largely stress-free thus far, but the Zags are about to enter the toughest portion of their WCC schedule. They have a break before visiting BYU on Thursday, followed by home games against San Diego, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s.
BYU is third place at 5-2, just in front of Saint Mary’s (4-2). Second-place USF (5-1) trails Gonzaga (6-0) by one game. San Diego (3-3) moved past Santa Clara into fifth place.
“Our pace a little bit, transition,” sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr. said of themes for upcoming practices. “I’m pretty sure to the fans we played like a perfect game, but to the coaches’ standards there are a couple things we can always clean up.”
San Francisco is the only foe to seriously test Gonzaga through six conference games.
“We need to rest a little bit and then we’ll start gearing up,” Few said. “At BYU, that’ll be crazy, 20,000 people. If you look at San Diego when they’ve been healthy, they’re a very good team. Then I think we have Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. We’re in it.”
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