Gonzaga jumped out to an early 11-point lead and everything appeared to be going just top notch. But then one of those soon to be patented Gonzaga five minute lapses kicked in. With 9:23 remaining in the first half, Gonzaga led, 25-17. With 4:44 left in the first half, Gonzaga trailed 25-27.
Within those five minutes, things went bad. Gonzaga went 0-for-3 from the floor and had four turnovers. Those missed field goal shots weren't a ode of things to come, but the turnovers were. Gonzaga turned the ball over 10 times in the first half with some all around sloppy play that led to Santa Clara taking a two-point lead at halftime. For the record, Santa Clara scored 14 points off of those turnovers, and they committed just one in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Finally, in the second half, Gonzaga settled down and put the Broncos in their place. But the damage to the psyche was done -- to a certain degree. The Bulldogs were clearly frustrated with some inconsistent refereeing, but at some point you have to place the responsibility on yourself. Gonzaga struggled to defend the three-point shot tonight and refused to adapt to Jared Brownridge.
Let's give all the credit to Brownridge here. The kid is a fantastic basketball player, and he kept Gonzaga befuddled with fighting through screens to contain him all night long. Gary Bell Jr. tried to control Brownridge for most of the game, but it looked like Eric McClellan was a bit more effective. Brownridge finished with a game high 25 points and was able to keep the hometown crowd in it for much of the game.
That hometown crowd also got underneath Gonzaga's skin. Towards the end of the night, what sounded like a chant of "safety school" rang out in Kyle Wiltjer's ears as he took some free-throws. Wiltjer, in what I would consider not necessarily the Gonzaga way, slammed it home as time expired on an outlet pass -- everyone else was starting to shake hands. The boos echoed throughout the arena as a stark reminder that outside of Spokane, there are a lot of individuals who hate the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Edit: In post game interviews, Mark Few expressed his displeasure with the final seconds of the game. Kyle Wiltjer followed suit with an apology. Hullabaloo over.
Few on Wiltjer's dunk: "We just don’t do that; we’ve never done that. He felt horrible afterward, but he needs to own up to it."— Jim Meehan (@SRJimm) February 6, 2015
Just wanted to apologize to @SCUHoops and the fans for that last second dunk, wasn't a good representation of the Zags and myself...— Kyle Wiltjer (@kwiltj) February 6, 2015
Point being, Santa Clara played the Bulldogs incredibly hard tonight. So credit to the Broncos. The final score makes it seem like the game wasn't much of a struggle, but for quite a bit, it was. Gonzaga looked human tonight, and that doesn't happen too often in conference play. On to the bullet points.
- Byron Wesley put up some of the quietest 17 points you will ever see. You can't just pin the success of an entire team on one person, but Wesley deserves all the praise and recognition that comes his way this season.
- Extra nice to see Gary Bell Jr. with another strong shooting night. He had 16 points off of 6-of-7 shooting and a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. GBJ went just 1-4 from the free throw line, but otherwise, a great night for the senior guard. Gonzaga will need him in March.
- Here is an exercise in how turnovers can kill you. At halftime, the Bulldogs were shooting 66.7 percent from the floor compared to Santa Clara shooting 45.5 percent. Gonzaga had five more rebounds, but also nine more turnovers and trailed by two. Shooting percentages mean garbage when you can't keep your hands on the ball.