Santa Clara entered Thursday night’s matchup with top-ranked Gonzaga sporting a 15-3 record and the West Coast Conference’s second-best league record.
It seemed, even before the first intermission, the record was something of a mirage.
Heck, even the ESPN2 crew of Eric Rothman and Corey Williams gave up early trying to make it seem like a contest. It wasn’t. The Zags won 104-54 before the usual sellout crowd of 6,000 that also included the students for the first time in a while.
What they saw …
• With the records seemingly predicting a tight game, maybe Rothman and Williams didn’t have a lot of fill material available. Whatever they had, they needed, much of it by halftime.
No matter what Santa Clara tried, “The Zags had an answer for everything,” as Rothman said.
They started by answering where Mark Few wanted the ball, pounding it inside early. Then they answered the question whether their hot shooting from the road had traveled back home. It had, as the Zags hit seven 3-pointers in the first half and finished with eight.
• The Gonzaga bench only stretched seven players deep in the opening half, as freshman Anton Watson has been lost for the year.
Rothman shared the news as the game began that Watson would have shoulder surgery soon. Without the 6-foot-8 freshman from Gonzaga Prep, the Bulldogs’ bench has grown shorter.
Though Rothman tried to lengthen it, telling the viewers as the opening tip was tossed, that 6-6 freshman Martynas Arlauskas was starting in place of Joel Ayayi. Except everyone could see Ayayi on the court including, eventually, Rothman. He corrected his mistake quickly.
Arlauskas did not appear until the second half.
• Williams was an explosive wing for the University of Arizona back in the day, but he’s a quiet, understated analyst for ESPN.
Too quiet, actually, at the start. His microphone wasn’t working as he tried to make a point before the game began.
Many who watched the last Gonzaga broadcast, from Loyola Marymount, probably wondered why that couldn’t have happened to Steve Lavin’s microphone that day.
The production crew got that issue fixed quickly, but it couldn’t fix a couple of comments Williams made early in the contest.
“They have given up four layups,” he said of Santa Clara’s defense, “all in the paint.”
So where else would a layup come from?
And when the broadcast went to commercial with visuals of 3-point shots being made and GU leading 28-10 just 9 minutes in, Williams said: “They’re doing work from downtown. (It’s) raining 3s in the Kennel.”
The Bulldogs (19-1, 5-0 in West Coast Conference play) were 3 of 6 at the time. Now, maybe Williams knew what was coming, because Gonzaga hit four more before halftime, but at that point it seemed a bit gratuitous.
What we saw …
• The Zags’ first-half offense was as efficient as it could be, as the 58 points showed. But it was matched by their defense, which forced nine Bronco turnovers and held Santa Clara to 25% shooting.
Both aspects of their game stalled a bit in the first part of the second half, but after a lull that allowed the Broncos to cut the lead to 28. That seemed like a win for Santa Clara.
• Rothman and Williams made a lot of comments concerning Gonzaga’s offensive balance. Rightfully so. Once again, the Zags had five players in double figures, including Admon Gilder pouring in 18 points off the bench. Add Ryan Woolridge running the offense with five assists, four rebounds, three steals and a single turnover and once again the Zags filled up the box score.
Inlcuding the free-throw results, a spot Gonzaga has struggled this season. Not Thursday. The Bulldogs hit 28 of 32, an impressive 87.5%.
The key matchup …
• Killian Tillie wasn’t one of the players in double figures for Gonzaga. However, he did have nine points, four rebounds and two blocks. His matchup with the Broncos’ Josip Vrankic, which seemed key, was not close before halftime, as SCU’s 6-9 forward was nearly invisible with just two points. Vrankic got going after intermission and finished with a team-leading 12 points.
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