Josh Perkins is determined to be a new man in the new year, as he sported a fresh haircut en route to his best game in a Gonzaga uniform. It was only fitting that he scored the first and last points of the game, giving him 26 points for the afternoon on 10-12 shooting.
Perkins opened the scoring for the Zags with a nice strong move to the basket (maybe he read the midseason report card I wrote about him...). In fact, Gonzaga's first two baskets come from the guards attacking the rim as Eric McClellan followed suit. With both teams perhaps eager to get on to their New Year's Eve plans, the first half went by quickly.
For his part, Kyle made his first five shot attempts, and he showed the complete array of his skill set as he mixed in 3-balls, post baskets, and even a banker off a drive. He's shown an affinity for big first halves this season, and today was no different as he posted 12 points in the opening stanza. Thanks to Wiltjer and our backcourt, the Zags' offense looked sharp through the first 10 minutes even though Domantas Sabonis didn't attempt a single shot. Eric McClellan continued the upward trend he's shown over the last 6 games, and his confidence and assertiveness attacking the rim was rewarded with 11pts and 3rbs in the first half.
On the other end of the court, the Broncos' backcourt trio of Jared Brownridge, Kai Healy, and KJ Feagin paced Santa Clara to a strong start of their own. After the Zags jumped out to a lead which they held through the first 10 minutes, Santa Clara battled back and retook the lead for themselves with six minutes to go. The teams would exchange the lead a few more times for the remainder of the half. Brownridge, in particular, was red hot despite Eric McClellan's best efforts to slow him down. Santa Clara's star guard scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting, and the Broncos looked much better than their 4-10 record indicated.
Although the Zags posted a 57.1% field goal rate in the first, their spacing looked notably poor as the opening half wore on and the offense began to stall. The half closed with the Zags holding a narrow 40-38 lead.
The Zags opened the second half with a terrible defensive possession, as they continued to allow Santa Clara to penetrate and dish for an easy basket. Moments later, a scary moment ensued when Domas crumpled to the ground after rolling his left ankle on a made layup. Thankfully, the big man is tough as nails and was able to walk it off.
Gonzaga switched to a 2-3 zone defense for a few minutes in an attempt to slow down Santa Clara's penetration, but the Broncos hot-shooting from deep made the Zags pay every time they were late on a rotation. Santa Clara did a good job of keeping the Zags from getting into a comfortable rhythm, as they seemed to control the pace of the game for much of the day. And, despite Brownridge only taking two shots in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Santa Clara continued to stick around capitalizing off turnovers and showing patience in their half court offense.
Josh had a great game to silence his naysayers, and he really buoyed the Zags offense in the second half. He was seemingly everywhere on offense and defense, at one point converting a great steal into a full-court drive and finish. Most importantly, Josh recognized that Santa Clara was staying home with the bigs on Gonzaga's ball screens, and repeatedly made them pay as he showed off his great athleticism on several beautiful drives to the basket.
Both teams The referees made-up for a relatively foul-free first half (12), by continuously blowing their whistles every time there was contact between players (31 fouls in the second). Brownridge tried to take advantage of the refs liberal whistle with under a minute to go as he tried to goad Silas Melson into a cheap foul on a three-point attempt, but amazingly, the refs did the right thing by giving him a no-call. Even more amazing, E-Mac sank two huge free throws to put Gonzaga ahead by 3 with 27 seconds left to play. E-Mac would foul out though on Santa Clara's next possession, as he might have been fortunate that the referees didn't give Brownridge a continuation call on a made drive. The Santa Clara ace would split his two free throws, but on the ensuing inbounds, Santa Clara trapped Silas Melson in the corner and the referee didn't give him the timeout. The Broncos got the ball back on the jump ball call, but Matt Hubbard failed to convert the easy layup on a beautiful out of bounds play, and Gonzaga snagged the rebound and turned the last few seconds into a free-throw shooting contest.
A lot of credit to Santa Clara for giving the Zags everything they could handle today. Hopefully, the new year is a little less stressful than today's game.
- Santa Clara did a great job controlling Domas in the paint, as the son of Arvydas didn't get his first bucket until there was less than minute left in the first half. He was more successful in the second half, but he had to work hard for everything he got.
- Kyle gets a lot of plaudits, and deservedly so, for his shooting, but he should get more recognition for his passing and vision. Hopefully, he didn't get injured too seriously on the blown layup by Hubbard at the end of the game.
- Josh Perkins did a great job with the pick-and-roll action, exhibiting good judgment when to drive, and when to pass. His decision-making was much improved, and I'm going to take credit for suggesting to him that he start attacking the basket more, as he had great success with it today.
- Santa Clara's KJ Feagin is going to be a great WCC guard, as the Freshman showcased the extent of his all-around game today.
- Other than some flashes on the defensive end, Silas Melson was MIA today.
- Tough game for the referees today. Really bad. Really, really bad.
- Get well soon, Przemek. I think I speak for everyone here when I say our thoughts and prayers are with the beg fella as he underwent season-ending back surgery today.