On Saturday’s win over Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga Bulldogs junior forward Brandon Clarke became just the third player in tournament history to score at least 35 points and block at least five shots. The other two players? Just a couple of guys by the names of Shaquille O’ Neal and David Robinson.
That the Zags favorite dunking machine accomplished this feat shouldn’t be much of a surprise for the Spokane faithful. All season long, Clarke has contributed highlight reel finishes and exclamation marks whenever he touches the ball. As we wrote about earlier, in this Year of the Zion, Clarke has gone criminally under-appreciated despite his success on the court.
Yesterday, Clarke finished with 36 points, eight rebounds, three assists, five blocks, two steals, and one turnover. He was an astonishing 15-of-18 from the field as he absolutely carved up the Baylor Bears’ interior defense
over and over again
Even for us Gonzaga fans, who have watched Clarke springboard his way across the court all season long, yesterday’s explosion was a spectacle to watch. None of it should be surprising, however.
Clarke does, after all, have more blocks this season (107) than he does missed field goals (105). He is one of the most dangerous players around the hoop. According to Synergy Sports, he averages 1.566 points per possession on shots at the hoop in which he isn’t posting up, the highest mark in the country at his volume. According to Hoop Math, his FG% at the rim is an astonishing 81.2 percent.
Most importantly, what we saw yesterday was a picture perfect game plan from the coaching staff and the Gonzaga players. Gonzaga went to Clarke early and often, and the results provided immediate dividends. When Baylor started to creep back in to start the second half, the Zags just shoveled it to Clarke down low to put the game out of reach.
All of this happened while the Zags leading scorer Rui Hachimura was held to his lowest point total of the season. For most teams, completely shuttering the leading scorer usually results in a win. Against Gonzaga, that just means you have to try and pick up the slack elsewhere.
It is only fitting that the person who beat Adam Morrison’s school record of 35 NCAA Tournament points is Brandon Clarke. Clarke has been an absolute phenom on this No. 1 squad, and the entire season almost feels like it was just a staging ground for performances such as yesterday.
Behind Clarke, the Zags punched their way into the Sweet 16 for the fifth-consecutive year, the longest current streak in college basketball. Hopefully, the highlight reel for the tournament is just getting started.