With four wins in their past five games, the Santa Clara women figured they had a decent shot to knock off Gonzaga on Saturday.
As it turned out, the Broncos had almost no shot at all, at least in the first half.
In a remarkable show of half-court defensive dominance, Gonzaga held Santa Clara to 11 first-half points and went on to a 67-50 West Coast Conference win at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Along the way, Santa Clara scored just one field goal in a 16½-minute span from midway through the first quarter to early in the third.
GU suffered a 5½-minute scoreless stretch in the first half, but the Bulldogs used a 19-0 run to take a 34-11 halftime lead.
Santa Clara came out of the locker room with a dominating third quarter and got within eight points before GU pulled away in the fourth.
The win was GU’s 23rd in a row in the Kennel.
The 17th-ranked Zags are 18-2 overall and 13-0 in the WCC, two games ahead of second-place BYU going into a big game Thursday in Provo, Utah.
The game began normally enough with Jenn Wirth scoring eight points in the first 5 minutes to give GU an early 10-6 lead.
Then the Zags went 5½ minutes without a score, yet still led 10-8 as Santa Clara wilted under GU’s frenetic defense.
The 11 points allowed in the half was easily a season best for GU, which allowed 16 each against Portland and Pepperdine earlier this year.
“I think that one of Gonzaga’s main identities is that we are a defensive team, or we at least try to take pride in our defense,” LeeAnne Wirth said.
On the court, that meant the Santa Clara drivers were usually confronted with at least two layers of defense.
“They really couldn’t get past our wall, like they were playing one against five every time,” junior forward Melody Kempton said.
Usually, those missed shots were rebounded by the Zags, who dominated the boards 43-24.
“That’s becoming our identity,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said.
While Santa Clara remained stuck, the Zags finally got untracked in the second quarter.
After missing 12 of 17 shots in the first quarter, GU began to thrive in transition – no one more than Kempton, who scored eight points on the break
“I love the transition game and our guards are great passers,” said Kempton, who shot 5 for 8 and whose 12 points tied for game high with Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth.
“I had a lot of fun out there today,” said Kempton, who logged 20 strong minutes as Jenn Wirth battled foul trouble.
Meanwhile, the Broncos were so out of sorts that instead of driving upcourt, they chose to dribble out the last 5 seconds of the half and trudge into the locker room.
The Broncos (12-8, 8-6) emerged a different team in the third quarter, making 9 of 14 shots while holding GU to 4 for 16.
“I’m really happy that we played great defense in the first half,” Fortier said. “That was the difference in the game, really.”
With 2:17 left in the third quarter, Santa Clara cut the GU lead to 41-33 on a 3-pointer from Lana Hollingsworth.
The Broncos misfired on another long-range shot that would have made it a five-point game, then backup guard Abby O’Connor drained a 3 to push the advantage to 11.
Still leading by that margin to start the fourth quarter, GU quickly went up by 17.
A 3-pointer from Townsend made it 59-39 with 5 minutes left and all but wrapped up the Zags’ 17th straight win.
Merle Wiehl had 11 points to lead Santa Clara.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.