Nolan Hickman comes up big, helps Gonzaga rally past Santa Clara 81-76
Jan. 7, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 7, 2023 at 10:34 p.m.
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Nolan Hickman (11) blocks Santa Clara Broncos guard Carlos Stewart (1) during the second half of a college basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, at Leavey Center in Santa Clara, Calif. Gonzaga won the game 81-76. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Gonzaga coach Mark Few suggested that the Zags “stole it at the end” against San Francisco on Thursday.
The ninth-ranked Zags won one at the end Saturday with solid stretches at both ends of the court, a huge 3-pointer by Nolan Hickman to highlight the best game of his young career, and clutch free-throw shooting late to pull out an 81-76 victory over Santa Clara in front of an overflow crowd at the Leavey Center.
“We had to fight and dig,” Few said. “I sound like a broken record, but they’re all going to be like this. So buckle up.”
Gonzaga’s ninth straight victory also included its biggest comeback of the season. The Zags (14-5, 3-0 West Coast Conference) trailed Santa Clara by 14 in the first half. Their largest deficit had been 12 points against Michigan State and San Francisco before rallying for narrow wins.
This game had a similar feel to Thursday with the Zags coming out sluggish and the opponent taking full advantage. Drew Timme, who had just 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting vs. USF, missed his first four shots against the physical Broncos before starting to heat up.
Hickman also had a slow start, giving up a pair of easy baskets to guard Brandin Podziemski from close range. The sophomore point guard then picked up two fouls, but he hit his stride later in the first half and delivered throughout the second half.
The lead went back and forth throughout a tense second half. Gonzaga had a 73-68 edge, but the Broncos scored six straight points to go up one with 1:45 remaining.
Coming out of a timeout, Gonzaga’s play call didn’t unfold as planned – Few was visibly agitated on the sideline – but Hickman improvised to connect on the biggest shot of the entertaining contest. He used a crossover dribble to create some space and drained a clutch 3-pointer.
“I definitely took it upon myself,” said Hickman, who made four 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting. “I saw the play was breaking down and the shot clock was running down, so I took it into my hands.”
His 3-pointer launched Gonzaga’s 8-2 closing run to overtake the Broncos (14-5, 2-2). Anton Watson hit 3 of 4 free throws and Julian Strawther added two free throws.
At the defensive end, Santa Clara forced a couple of wild missed shots before Podziemski hit two free throws with the outcome all but decided.
“I hadn’t really had 20 (points) since high school. That was a real good feeling,” Hickman said. “It’s definitely going to be big, especially down the stretch of these games. I feel like a lot of game plans with opponents, they’re going to try to bog the game down, shrink the floor down on Drew.
“With me and Rasir (Bolton, who scored 21 points vs. USF) showing what we can do from the perimeter like that it’s going to relieve some of the pressure off Drew.”
Strawther came up big again after scoring 16 points against the Dons. The junior wing finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Timme contributed 20 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“This is not a one-man sport,” Timme said. “My biggest thing from the San Francisco game is, thank God I don’t play tennis because (basketball) is five guys. To see those guys (Hickman, Strawther and Bolton) getting more and more confidence is awesome.”
Podziemski, a 6-foot-5 transfer from Illinois, torched the Zags in the first half with 13 points and three assists. When Gonzaga did have a solid defensive possession against Podziemski, the left-hander hit a 27-foot bank shot with the shot clock expiring.
The Zags trailed 30-16 before they finally got untracked on both ends. Strawther’s 3-pointer, a pair of Hickman field goals and Timme’s first two field goals pulled Gonzaga within 30-29.
Hickman’s 3 tied it at 32. GU regained the lead twice before Podziemski fed Carlos Stewart for a layup to give SCU a 37-36 halftime. Podziemski had 13 points and three assists in the opening half.
The Zags shut down Podziemski in the second half. He finished with 17 points and seven boards. Keshawn Justice picked up the slack, finishing with 22 points.
Gonzaga visits BYU on Thursday in Provo, Utah.
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