While the records may have teased a better game, when No. 1 Gonzaga men’s basketball tipped off with Santa Clara Thursday night in The Kennel, nothing could have prepared the Broncos for GU’s offensive onslaught.
GU (19-1, 5-0 West Coast Conference) trailed for all but 24 seconds of its emphatic 104-54 victory over the Broncos (15-4, 2-2 WCC).
Here are three takeaways from the action inside McCarthey Athletic Center.
A first half 58-piece
On the season, opponents of Santa Clara men’s basketball averaged 66.7 points per game versus the Broncos. On Thursday night in The Kennel, GU threatened that mark in the game’s first half.
Three Zags scored in double figures during the opening 20 minutes as GU built a 58-22 halftime lead.
“We jumped out and played with great tenacity, I thought for really almost a full 40 minutes,” head coach Mark Few said.
With the Zags leading 12-9 five minutes into the first half, Few’s squad took off. A three-minute, 18-1 run by GU opened the floodgates for a devastating first half.
By the half’s end, the Bulldogs tallied seven 3-pointers on 51% field goal percentage while limiting Santa Clara to just 25% from the field to take a 36-point lead into the locker room.
“[The offense] was very smooth,” freshman Drew Timme said. “We were just really moving the ball well, everyone was sharing it, it kind of looked like the San Antonio Spurs out there with the one more [pass] and it was also cool seeing everyone so happy for each other when everyone scored. It was a really fun night.”
Junior Corey Kispert, redshirt senior Admon Gilder and redshirt sophomore Joel Ayayi each hit a pair of 3-pointers in the half, while sophomore Filip Petrusev grabbed seven rebounds, including four on the offensive glass and GU left Santa Clara in the dust early.
In the absence of Anton
Less than 20 minutes before GU tipped off with Santa Clara, the team announced in a news release that freshman forward Anton Watson would undergo surgery on his left shoulder and miss the remainder of the season.
Watson, a Spokane native and Gonzaga Prep graduate, averaged 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15 games including five starts for the Bulldogs this season.
“You feel horrible for Anton,” Few said after the game. “Everybody loves Anton, he is a wonderful teammate. He’s a warrior of a competitor, I mean he’s been dealing with a pretty painful injury and strapping it up and going right back out there and giving it his all.”
Down Watson, Few turned to Kispert to matchup defensively with Santa Clara’s tallest forwards in the paint for extended minutes against the Broncos. The increased responsibility didn’t seem to bother the junior who scored 16 points and added three rebounds in 26 minutes of play.
Gilder and freshman Drew Timme combined for 33 points off the bench for GU. With only seven players averaging double digit minutes, the tandem will be crucial to GU’s depth moving forward.
“[Watson] is a guy that can do so much, he can do everything, so it makes all of us have to step our game up even more, but we are all looking forward to the challenge,” Timme said.
Bring on BYU
With a ballooning 30-point lead for much of the closing half, The Kennel crowd and the GU men on the court rested up for Saturday’s showdown with BYU (14-5, 3-1 WCC).
The crowd filed out of McCarthey Athletic Center and Few slowly shuttled his starters to the bench in advance of a face-off with the WCC’s second best team.
“They are really good, I mean BYU is good every year, that is why they play us tough,” Few said.
“Year in and year out it is hard to find a program that consistently plays as hard as they do. They are very physical and this team is no different.”
BYU will bring with it a defense statistically as stout as Santa Clara’s. The Cougars hold opponents to 66.7 points a game, but have yet to face an offense quite like the Zags who were scoring an NCAA Division I-high 87.8 points before GU’s 104-point demolition of the Broncos.
“It’s just going to be a good test coming up on Saturday,” senior Killian Tillie said. “We are really excited to have them in The Kennel. It’s going to be a tough team, so we are going to have the same intensity as we had today and just try and win.”
The Zags strong 3-point shooting performance from Thursday night, 38% on the night including 53% in the first half, will need to be replicated against a BYU Cougars team that holds opponents to 29.3% shooting from beyond the arc.
An 88% shooting night from the free-throw line indicated positive growth for a GU team ranked 293 best in free throw percentage at 65.8%
BYU will likely be without leading scorer Yoeli Childs, who injured a finger in a game against Saint Mary’s last week. The Cougars will turn to senior guards TJ Haws and Jake Toolson to deliver an offensive spark.
“I would rather play with him for sure, but if he doesn’t play it still doesn’t matter, we will still have to come in and be aggressive,” Tillie said.
Ian Davis-Leonard is a copy editor. Follow him on Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.