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#23 Gonzaga Squanders a Late Lead and Falls at Santa Clara, 77-76

It’s time to hit the panic button.

Gonzaga v Santa Clara Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

That’s it. Gonzaga’s winning streak against Santa Clara since 2011 has ended along with the Top 25 streak of 143 weeks in the AP Poll since 2017. All good things must come to an end, I guess.

It was a defensive breakdown by the Zags to close out the game. That’s fitting because this has been a disaster of a season for Gonzaga. Santa Clara’s Adama Bal had a chance to tie it up with about 14 seconds to go after drawing the foul. His free throw hit every part of the rim but did not go in and the Broncos were then forced to foul. Gonzaga missed the front end on their free throw and Bal got redemption with his quick coast-to-coast drive.

The Frenchman may have just secured himself the chance to hear his name called at the NBA Draft with that clutch performance against the Zags. I had the opportunity to talk with Mark Few after the loss about Bal’s 17 points on 7-16 FG, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals performance.

Changing the subject for just a bit. Steve Nash was in attendance alongside his head coach, Dick Davey. I had the pleasure to talk with him for a bit and felt blessed just to be in his presence.

Give props to a fantastic atmosphere that the Leavey Center put together on Steve Nash night (all the students were given a throwback jersey of the Santa Clara legend along with the team rocking the 90’s look). It was so damn loud in there that it was hard to hear your own thoughts.

Anton Watson didn’t seem to care that the former 2x NBA MVP who put Santa Clara basketball on the map was in the house. The Gonzaga senior was making his own identity known on both sides of the floor for the entirety of the game. He stuffed the stat sheet with game-high’s of 32 points on 14-18 FG, 9 rebounds, 6 steals and continues to show his ability to take over games by himself.

Mark Few had this to say postgame: “Anton was spectacular tonight. It’s tough, we had some not great games from a lot of other people. We didn’t get much of anything out of other people, so it’s hard on the road to get it done.”

The six other Zags who were given minutes went only 18-49 from the field (36.7 FG%). Unfortunately, it can’t just be a one man wrecking crew. Has to be a team effort. The lack of floor spacing and sharing of the rock with only 8 team assists won’t cut it against anyone. Ryan Nembhard (21 points on 9-19 FG, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steals) was in control of the offense for the most part but started to fade in crunch time.

Gonzaga’s three-point percentage over the last eight games (besides the first two league games) has been the ultimate reason this team is struggling so often. This issue needs to be solved immediately because it has gotten completely out of hand.

@ Santa Clara (2-20 3PT, 10.0 3PT%)

vs USD (10-23 3PT, 43.4%)

vs Pepperdine (8-19 3PT, 42.1%)

vs SDSU (5-19 3 PT, 26.3%)

vs Jackson St. (5-18 3PT, 27.7%)

vs UConn (2-12 3PT, 16.6%)

vs MVSU (5-24 3PT, 20.8%)

@ UW (5-18 3PT, 27.7%)

I want to see more of that second half lineup consisting of Ben Gregg, Anton Watson, and Braden Huff going forward (Graham Ike eventually did foul out). It’s got massive size yet still quick and has the ability to stretch the floor out. That trio can body most conference opponents going forward as the bench could use more guard support. Maybe Dusty Stromer in the sixth man role now? It seems that some sort of change in the lineup and rotation is needed.

Gonzaga is now in serious trouble of missing the NCAA Tournament. The Zags have to win the West Coast Conference Tournament in order to get in, an at-large bid seems almost out of the picture now. A victory on the trip to Lexington, Kentucky in February could change that.

No games this weekend but Gonzaga does have to go back on the road to Malibu to take on Pepperdine next Thursday at 7 PM PT on ESPN+.

Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho