With Kelly Olynyk, Killian Tillie and Jalen Suggs sitting in the front row for the Senior Night celebrations, a somewhat listless Gonzaga squad defeated the pluckier than expected Santa Clara Broncos 81 – 69. Gonzaga was led by Drew Timme with 23 points, Andrew Nembhard scored 21 shooting 5 for 9 from deep and Chet Holmgren had the minimum requirements for a double/double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Broncos were led by an inspired P. J. Pipes who scored 27 points on 10 for 12 from the field and 4 for 5 from the arc. The UW-Green Bay transfer literally kept the Broncos in the game.
Tonight’s showing may have been Gonzaga’s ugliest offensive performance of the season. A flurry of made shots late in the contest allowed GU to raise their shooting percentage to Zags 41% from the field and 34% from deep. Don’t let those numbers fool you, Gonzaga seemed content to take threes early in the shot clock and forced up a couple of shots as the shooting clock was about to expire.
With seniors Will Graves and Matthew Lang starting the first half, the Bronco’s Josip Vrankic took advantage of the 6” height advantage over Lang to score 2 of Santa Clara’s first three baskets. Things didn’t look much better for Gonzaga when Lang and Graves took a seat and Chet Holmgren and Julian Strawther entered the game. The game was knotted at 18 with 9:20 to play in the half with GU hoisting up 15 three-pointers (making only 4) to that point.
Thankfully, Gonzaga dominated the boards 28 to 19, played tough defense and went on a 20 to 6 run over the next seven minutes to extend the lead to 16. Santa Clara fought back over the next two minutes, cutting GU’s lead to 41 – 31 at the half. Gonzaga ended the half with an ugly 6 for 21 from deep.
The Gonzaga offense continued to struggle to start the second half. Drew Timme had two foul-drawing finishes at the rim, Rasir Bolton made some clutch plays and Andrew Nembhard hit timely threes but the rest of the team weren’t significant factors. Thankfully Santa Clara was also having its share of offensive woes save P. J. Pipes who was incredible.
A Pipes three-pointer with 9:55 left to play cut the Gonzaga lead to six, but a Drew Timme three point play and a Rasir Bolton three-pointer brought the lead back to double digits. Gonzaga would extend it to 19 with two minutes left to play.
Pipes didn’t have much help, Gonzaga shut down the Broncos big three of Jalen Williams, Josip Vrankic and Keshawn Justice who were a combined 8 of 29 from the field for only 26 points. Besides Pipes, the Broncos only bright spot was back-up center Jaden Bediako who grabbed 10 rebounds and played good defense in the post. Gonzaga’s bigs were only 12 for 29 from the field.
Gonzaga travels to the Bay Area next week for a Thursday game against San Francisco, 6:00 p.m. start time on ESPN2 and they finish the WCC season at Moraga on Saturday against St. Mary’s, 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.