Kyle Wiltjer scored 35 points and the Gonzaga Bulldogs overcame a rather sloppy game to push past Santa Clara, 84-67.
In the first half, everything was pointing to a Gonzaga blowout. Wiltjer was raining hellfire from beyond the arc and looked like he wanted to personally tear Santa Clara limb from limb during the game. Wiltjer finished the first half with 23 points, shooting 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. Santa Clara, as a team, finished with 22 points in the first half.
But like Gonzaga tends to do, they opened up the second half a bit flat. The Broncos were able to cut the lead to something a bit more respectable, and the Bulldogs helped them as much as they could in the process. Sloppy turnovers and lazy transition defense from Gonzaga led to easy bucket after easy bucket for Santa Clara.
Gonzaga, pretty inexplicably, finished with 16 turnovers in the game. Josh Perkins, who had been on a stellar tear as of late with an assist to turnover ratio of 5:1 over his last five games, finished the game with five turnovers. Wiltjer, despite his stellar offensive output, also continued his streak of not recognizing when to ditch the ball in the post, and finished with five as well.
That turnover stat is the only reason the Bulldogs didn't win this game by 40. Even with Gonzaga's innate ability to cough up second half leads, Santa Clara never truly threatened to win this game. But, they punished Gonzaga for the turnovers. The Broncos finished with 23 points off of turnovers, and also provided the GU coaching staff with plenty of film to drill into players' heads tomorrow.
There were also quite a few fouls called in this game across the board. As such, Mark Few actually opened up his bench for some decent minutes, and both Ryan Edwards and Bryan Alberts answered. Alberts finished the game with nine points, all on threes, and Edwards chipped in six points from the free throw line.
Alberts looked settled in his role as the three point threat. But he still had a couple of lazy fouls and his defensive awareness obviously could use some work (specifically thinking of when Perkins picked up his third foul because Alberts tried to intercept an transition outlet pass that was probably ten feet above his head).
Edwards was posting up down low, which was nice to see. He used his body to take up space and made the Broncos work around him. Santa Clara couldn't, and it gave Edwards the opportunity to pick up points at the line, a good spot for the kid who shoots 75 percent on free throws.
But enough about everyone else, and let's get back to Wiltjer. One of the best parts about Wiltjer's game tonight was that his points continued into the second half. Wiltjer has had a lot of games this season with 20 or more points in the first half, only to watch him disappear a bit in the second half. In this game, Santa Clara adapted for sure--Wiltjer had 10 field goal attempts in the first half to just five in the second half. Wiltjer, instead of trying to shoot a jumper in the second half, recognized the defensive mismatch down low and spent most of his time posting up. After having just one free throw attempt in the first half, he had eight in the second half. The foul pressure that he provided as a big man was big, and it was a solid transition for a player who shoots 86 percent from the free throw line.
Overall, despite the sloppy play, this was a good effort from Gonzaga. They jumped out to a huge early lead, slipped a bit in the second half, and clamped down with more than enough time remaining. These comfortable wins are more of what we hoped we'd see from this team in conference play, and hopefully it is something the squad can build off of.