Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring, so nights like Thursday’s 104-54 blowout over visiting Santa Clara are hardly uncommon.
Still, the Bulldogs flat-out put on a show offensively in the first half, even by their lofty standards.
The top-ranked Zags enjoyed their customary paint dominance with Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme and Killian Tillie. They were dialed in from distance with Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert and Admon Gilder, the latter adding two physical drives and finishes while being fouled.
But it’s a clear sign it’s your night when Kispert takes a pass on the wing with the shot clock about to expire and buries a hurried 3-pointer, Gilder beats the halftime buzzer with a 26-footer and Petrusev battles a crowd of defenders for a pair of offensive rebounds and a putback layup.
Or when the Zags, who have struggled at the free-throw line most of the year, drain 28 of 32 at the stripe.
Gonzaga, which announced before the game that freshman forward Anton Watson will have shoulder surgery and miss the rest of the season, made quick work of the Broncos in front of a packed McCarthey Athletic Center crowd of 6,000 that was noisy again with students back from the holiday break.
The Zags (19-1, 5-0 WCC) put up 58 points in the opening half – the second highest scoring half of the season behind a 64-point effort in the first half against Eastern Washington.
“When we play together and when we play great defense, which helps a lot, I think we’re pretty unstoppable offensively,” said Ayayi, who had 19 points, six rebounds and three steals. “We moved the ball really well, it didn’t get stuck. We kept moving the ball and a lot of good things happen when we play like that.”
The Zags took apart a Santa Clara team that was off to its best 18-game start since the 1977-78 season, including an upset win over Saint Mary’s in Moraga last Saturday.
Gonzaga led by 20 before the midpoint of the first half. Ryan Woolridge soared to bat away a Santa Clara pass and capitalized on the turnover with a layup at the other end, pushing Gonzaga’s lead to 31 with 1:45 left. It was 58-22 at the break.
“It was very smooth,” said Timme, who posted his second consecutive double-double with 15 points and 11 boards. “Everyone was sharing it. It kind of looked like the San Antonio Spurs a little bit with the one more (pass). It was also cool seeing everybody so happy for each other. A really fun night.”
The Broncos (15-4, 2-2) had no answer, defensively or offensively. They shot 25% from the field and made just 1 of 12 3-point attempts in the first half. Gonzaga finished with seven blocked shots, two apiece by Timme and Tillie.
“We jumped out and played with great tenacity for almost a full 40 minutes,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We played with a lot of spirit, we were physical and protected the rim probably as good as we’ve protected the rim all year.
“We’ve had games where we’ve shot it well, and we were maybe even missing that piece as far as our intensity, challenging shots, hustling and covering for each other. We were as good as we’ve been all year with that.”
Gonzaga was sluggish at the outset of the second half but quickly warmed up and steadily expanded its lead.
Five Zags reached double figures, led by Ayayi’s 19 on 8-of-13 shooting. Petrusev and Gilder each had 18 points. Kispert added 16 points. Timme drilled a 16-foot jumper just seconds after entering the game in the first half to start his 15-point effort.
Tillie chipped in nine points.
Gonzaga shot 51.5% from the floor while limiting Santa Clara to 30.4%.
Josip Vrankic led Santa Clara with 12 points, 10 coming in the second half after the Zags had opened up a comfortable lead.
The Zags have won 20 straight in the series, the past three by a combined 156 points.
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