SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Gonzaga picked up another win Thursday but lost another key player.
The second-ranked Bulldogs rode Filip Petrusev’s career night to an 87-72 win over Santa Clara, but their already shorthanded seven-man rotation dwindled to six after senior forward Killian Tillie exited with a left ankle injury.
Tillie swatted Jalen Williams’ shot underneath before tumbling to the court with just over 9 minutes remaining in the first half. He left the floor, assisted by trainer Josh Therrien and a team manager, without putting any weight on his left leg.
“We’ll see how bad it is,” Coach Mark Few said. “Just not catching a break. It’s a shame because he was playing as good as he’s ever played these last 4-5 games. Jumped up and came down on somebody’s foot (with) his full weight. It looks like it’s in the lower area. If there’s any silver lining it’s that (and) it’s not up high or broken.”
Tillie, who leads Gonzaga in scoring in WCC play at 15.6 points per game, missed the first four games of the season while recovering from an October knee surgery. He also sprained his ankle late in the second half against Arizona.
The Zags (22-1, 8-0 WCC), who clobbered Santa Clara (17-6, 4-4) by 50 two weeks ago in Spokane, had their hands full in the rematch in front of 4,200 at the Leavey Center.
Petrusev carried the Zags to the finish line, pouring in 20 of his career-high 31 points in the second half. The 6-foot-11 Serbian deposited 14 of 18 shots to become the first Zag this season to score at least 30 in a game.
It didn’t happen by accident. Petrusev knew he had to deliver after Tillie’s injury, and the Zags, who were a chilly 3 of 16 beyond the 3-point line, made sure to feed the talented big man.
“I knew one guy couldn’t stop me,” Petrusev said. “If the double (team) was late I just took advantage of it and went to work right away. Or if they never sent a double, I just took my time and got to my move. Simple as that.”
Petrusev made it look simple, but he wasn’t easy to deal with for several overmatched Santa Clara defenders. Freshman forward Drew Timme also stung SCU in the lane with 11 points and four of Gonzaga’s 10 offensive rebounds.
“That was clearly the difference in the game, their ability to score in the paint,” Broncos coach Herb Sendek said. “We didn’t have a good answer for that despite trying a couple different strategies. Petrusev is really good down there.”
Three columns on the stat sheet told the story of the outcome in addition to Petrusev’s performance. The Zags piled up 62 paint points. They held a 10-point edge in points after turnovers and a 12-4 bulge in second-chance points.
They needed all of it against the Broncos, who pushed Gonzaga deep into the second half behind DJ Mitchell’s 17 points, Josip Vrankic’s 15 and Jalen Williams’ 12.
Gonzaga had problems containing Santa Clara’s dribble penetration and repeatedly left 3-point shooters open. The Broncos failed to take advantage, making just 8 of 25 behind the arc.
“They were a lot more aggressive, definitely were on their toes more,” said Gonzaga wing Corey Kispert, who had nine points, five assists, two steals and two blocks. “We expected that. I don’t think they get a crowd like this for many of the games during the year and so they wanted to give us their best shot and they did.”
Kispert wore No. 53 instead of his usual No. 24 in tribute to Kobe Bryant. Five and three adds up to eight, one of the numbers Bryant wore during his career. Bryant also wore No. 24.
Gonzaga pushed its lead to double figures a couple times in the second half, but the Broncos fought back within 73-66 with 5 minutes remaining. Petrusev scored the next two baskets as the Zags pulled away.
“It’s always a good thing when you have an inside presence and you’re not relying on 3-point shots and getting easy 2s,” said point guard Ryan Woolridge, who had 13 points, six assists and triggered Gonzaga’s transition game. “He did a great job with that.”
Gonzaga jumped in front by nine early and was still up 22-16 when Tillie, assisted by a trainer and a team manager, left the court without putting any weight on his left leg.
Santa Clara missed its first eight 3-point attempts before Mitchell connected from deep with five minutes left to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 30-25. The Broncos added three more 3s before halftime – they were 3 of 25 in Spokane – but the Zags took a 40-36 lead at the break on Woolridge’s driving layup with four seconds left.
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