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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga opens with impressive first half, leads nearly wire to wire in 88-70 rout of Santa Clara

Feb. 2, 2023 Updated Thu., Feb. 2, 2023 at 11:25 p.m.

If possible, Mark Few would’ve bottled up Gonzaga’s first half on Thursday against Santa Clara.

The Bulldogs’ high-functioning offense created quality looks just about everywhere on the floor and their defense rose to a level it hadn’t in West Coast Conference play, helping No. 12 Gonzaga open up a big lead and roll to a comfortable 88-70 win over Santa Clara at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Santa Clara’s Carlos Stewart made a wide-open 3-pointer on the game’s first possession, but Gonzaga responded with an 8-0 run and then led for the final 38 minutes, 44 seconds. In the first half, the Bulldogs held the Broncos to 24 points – the lowest total by an opponent since the first half of GU’s season opener against North Florida – and scored 43 of their own points, on 56% shooting.

It was in the running for Gonzaga’s most complete half this season, if not at the top of the list.

“I felt it was,” Few said. “I felt we were really efficient on our offensive end and then to be able to do that defensively to such a good offense team. I think you saw in the second half what they are capable of doing and especially when they get going like that. So yeah, I would say that was right up there with some of our better second halves.”

Gonzaga’s next challenge will be replicating that on Saturday in a top-20 showdown with No. 18 Saint Mary’s, which maintained a one-game lead on the Bulldogs in the WCC standings Thursday night after holding off San Francisco in Moraga.

The first month of WCC play has been anything but steady for Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs’ last two games have been reflective of a team that’s trending in the right direction ahead of Saturday’s game against the Gaels.

After an 82-67 win at Portland last Saturday, Thursday’s double-digit win over Santa Clara showed more signs of a Gonzaga team rounding into form midway through the WCC calendar.

One of those signs? Gonzaga got 18 points and perfect shooting from a senior frontcourt starter not named Drew Timme. Anton Watson managed to match his season-high in points without missing any of his eight field goal attempts. The Gonzaga Prep product also finished with five rebounds and four assists.

“I feel like it’s every game, they focus on Drew and it opens a lot for me,” Watson said. “It’s just my mentality, coming into the game was to be more aggressive and attack the rim.”

Timme scored just four points in the first half, but shrugged off the slow start to finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds. The senior forward became just the third player in program history to reach 2,000 career points, hitting the milestone on a transition dunk in the second half.

Rasir Bolton scored 16 points, making 3 of 5 from the 3-point line, and Julian Strawther was Gonzaga’s fourth double-digit scorer, finishing with 12 points five days after hitting a career-high 40 in the win at Portland.

The Bulldogs assisted on 20 of their 35 baskets.

“Some other guys are stepping up and finding their offense,” Few said. “Anton was spectacular again tonight and he’s doing it at both ends. We lean on him so hard on the defensive end, we thought we had some things we could go to with him on the offensive end and he delivered. Especially delivered a little bit when Drew was struggling in the first half.”

Gonzaga’s defense regressed in the second half, but the Bulldogs managed to hold the Broncos to 9 of 30 (30%) from the field and 3 of 11 (27.3%) from beyond the arc in the first. Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski, the sophomore guard and Illinois who entered Thursday’s game averaging a WCC-leading 21.7 points per game, was held to four points on 1 of 7 from the field and finished with just 14 on 4 of 14 shooting.

“We were just getting stops, they’re a good offensive team and we kind of shut them down,” Watson said. “We got multiple stops in a row and once we do that, it makes the offense flow, it makes us get fast breaks when we’re playing fast. Yeah, I think that was the biggest key was getting stops in the first half.”

Stewart finished with a team-high 22 points, making 9 of 15 from the field and 3 of 6 from the 3-point line.

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