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Gonzaga Basketball

TV Take: Gonzaga overcomes slow start to hold off Santa Clara on senior night

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

Senior nights can be tough. The season is running out and each game carries more importance. Emotions run wild. And before the tip, the focus is often more on who is being honored instead of who is on the opposite bench.

“Now you have to play a game,” Greg Heister said, after the Fox 28 broadcast showed the pregame ceremonies.

“There is a ton of emotion that goes into tonight,” said analyst Richard Fox. “It gets to the point where you can’t wait for the game to start.”

The four honorees included usual starters point guard Andrew Nembhard, shooting guard Rasir Bolton along with reserves Matthew Lang and Will Graves.

Gonzaga, who started the quartet of honored players, didn’t trail until the regulars took the court. There might have been a bit of a hangover, though, as the first 10 minutes of the game were not the Bulldogs’ best. The result, however, was an 81-69 win over Santa Clara before the usual 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

What they saw

• “The Zags’ offense is a lot more stagnant than I’m used to,” Heister said during the early going. At that point, about 8 minutes in, the Zags led 16-14 but were shooting just 31% from the floor. It didn’t help they had taken 13 3-pointers and had connected on only four. They ended up taking 35 and hit 12.

It was part of a slow start – a Senior Night impact? – that continued until a late 20-4 first-half run helped Gonzaga (23-2 overall, 13-0 in West Coast Conference play) build its usual double-digit home lead. The run included a scoreless drought for the Broncos (18-10, 8-5) of more than 5 minutes.

“I think Gonzaga early got outworked,” Fox said. “That last 10 minutes or so they played hard and out-competed the Broncos on the glass.”

It didn’t last.

Santa Clara’s size and physical play seemed to slow Gonzaga down, forcing the Zags into a grind-it-out game for one of the few times in the conference season. They did.

• The emphasis early was on the seniors, as it should be. In fact, the two guards, Nembhard and Bolton, played huge roles throughout, with Nembhard hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 21 points with eight assists while Bolton added 18 points.

But there were multiple other story lines for Heister and Fox to cover. The most-important one? It would be hard to argue for anything other than Gonzaga trying for its 10th consecutive regular-season title.

A big part of the last two has been Drew Timme, who, like his teammates, didn’t have the best start. But his middle and end was pretty good.

He finished with 23 points, hitting half his shots, many of them when the Bulldogs needed a bucket. He also pulled down nine rebounds.

“He’s a good player, Greg,” Fox said at one point, earning a laugh from Heister and a dig about in-depth analysis. That came a little later.

“There is a lot of things that make you successful in the interior,” Fox said in the second half after Timme was fouled. “No. 1 is you’ve got to like contact. It’s the most physical place on the floor. Drew Timme searches it out.

“How often have we seen bigs that want to avoid it?”

The Broncos’ PJ Pipes more than matched him, though. The 6-foot-2 senior guard hit 10-of-12 shots and finished with 27 points.

What we saw

• Killian Tillie, Kelly Olynyk and Jalen Suggs. Often. The three former GU players were in town, had great seats and were shown a handful of times on the broadcast.

As well they should be.

After all they are part of the string of consecutive WCC titles. And top rankings, which was reiterated again Saturday as the NCAA Tournament selection committee had them as the top seed in their first bracket reveal.

Selection committee chair Tom Burnett called the margin between GU and second-seed Auburn, “razor thin.” The Tigers, however, lost 63-62 at Florida earlier Saturday.

• It’s a busy night in West Coast college hoops which means there was a huge need for officials. Which must have meant the top crews were busy elsewhere.

The trio working included Tommy Nunez, a former NBA referee, Ken Ditty, who has been around for years, and Deldre Carr, who played his college hoops in Missoula.

Not the strongest crew. But a crew that didn’t seem to want to get involved much. At first.

“They are letting them play,” Fox said early in the second half. “It has been a physical game up to this point.”

The next possession, there was a foul called.

“Just as you say that a little bump and a we got a whistle,” Heister chided Fox. And the whistles continued, though with 11:14 left, when Timme was hit on a short shot – just seconds after Holmgren’s arm was hit and no call was made – the foul call by Carr wasn’t quick enough for Mark Few’s liking.

His presence on the floor was noted by Carr, as he showed Few an open hand.

Of course, Santa Clara’s Herb Sendek wasn’t happy either, especially with a key foul call with 5:59 left that helped the Zags rebuild a double-digit lead.