It wasn’t quite perfection, but Gonzaga’s 101-40 win over the Denver Pioneers was probably as close as it gets to perfect in college basketball. The 61-points that separated the two teams was Gonzaga’s largest margin of victory in program history. It was also the fifth time this season that Gonzaga has eclipsed the century mark.
Rui Hachimura showed why he’s firmly in the running for a Wooden award, racking up 23 points on a perfect 9-9 from the field. Brandon Clarke showed that his national profile should be on the rise too, as he matched Hachimura’s 23 points while also locking up the paint for the Zags on the rare occasions that Denver ventured inside. Corey Kispert added 13 points while Zach Norvell chipped in 12. Filip Petrusev continued his strong play off the bench with 10 points.
While Gonzaga’s offense was humming at a 68.4% clip from the field, the defense gets the plaudits on this evening after holding Denver to 24.6% (16-65) and three shot clock violations over the course of the game.
The Zags took a flamethrower to the poor Pioneers in the first half. GU blitzed Denver right from the opening tip, with the front court duo of Hachimura and Clarke going to work early (they combined to go 15-15 for 36 points in the first half) against a soft interior defense. By the first media timeout, Gonzaga was ahead 14-0 and the game was effectively over.
While Gonzaga was busy carving up DU on the offensive end, the defense went on a run of its own. The Pioneers didn’t pick up their first points until more than six minutes had elapsed in the game, and it truly felt like Gonzaga was pitching a perfect game. The Zags made their first 15 field goal attempts, shot 88% overall from the field in the first half, controlled the glass, and suffocated Denver’s offense. Add that all up and you get a 56-19 scoreline at the break, which looks charitable considering the complete dismantling that was on display through the game’s first 20 minutes.
The energy and execution on both ends of the floor is certainly what Mark Few was looking for before giving his players a few days off for the holidays. Gonzaga’s defense, which has been the object of consternation for fans over the last two weeks, was operating with much greater tenacity and unity.
Of course, the talent disparity between these two programs cannot be ignored, but the utter display of dominance from Gonzaga was still a sight to behold. It wasn’t just the starters either, as Joel Ayayi and Jack Beach knocked down back-to-back threes late in the game much to deliver free tacos to the fans in the building.
While there was obviously a lot of positives to take out of the game, perhaps the biggest positive was that Gonzaga’s defensive intensity and focus did not wane in the second half. That, more than any other, shows a team that understands where it has been deficient and signals a desire to remedy that issue.
If the Zags can continue on that arc, this may not be the last time they touch perfection.