The Gonzaga Bulldogs snapped Santa Clara’s six-game win streak in a 91-48 victory. The Zags, who have not lost a WCC opener since 1996 (against Santa Clara, incidentally), were never troubled as they signaled what’s to come for the rest of the WCC now that they are at full strength for the first time this season.
Killian Tillie, in his first game of the season after undergoing ankle surgery right before the start of the campaign, and Geno Crandall, who returned after a 9-game absence due to a fractured hand, were welcomed back to a standing ovation in The Kennel. Their additions strengthen a team that looked like it was on fumes after the North Carolina game in mid-December, and give Mark Few an embarrassment of riches to call upon.
Rui Hachimura led all scorers with 25 points, and Brandon Clarke chipped in 16 points. Corey Kispert (9 points), Zach Norvell (5 points), and Josh Perkins (6 points) had relatively quiet nights but a deep Gonzaga squad saw 10 different Zags score.
The fans in the building were treated to a little bit of everything in this game, highlighted by a no-doubter dunk from Josh Perkins immediately followed by an alley-oop off the backboard from Perkins to Clarke in transition. After quickly shaking off some rust, Tillie showed why many pundits label him as Gonzaga’s best shooter.
Hachimura did a lot of the heavy lifting early on for the Zags, picking up 8 of the team’s first 9 points en route to 18 first half points. Clarke wasn’t too far behind him, however, with 13 first half points along with 3 blocks as Santa Clara had no answer for Gonzaga’s talented frontcourt. Things didn’t get any easier for the Broncos when those two left the floor, as Tillie, Filip Petrusev, and Jeremy Jones were waiting in the wings.
While the Zags pounded Santa Clara’s interior defense into submission, they completely suffocated the Broncos at the opposite end of the floor. Santa Clara coughed up 23 turnovers, which provided Gonzaga’s offense with a host of easy transition opportunities that it didn’t really need.
The amount of talent that Gonzaga had coming off the bench meant that there would no reprieve for the Broncos when a starter got a breather, and lends credibility to the amount of hype that Gonzaga had coming into the season before the injuries hit. Whether the Zags can stay healthy and make good on that hype will be the biggest storyline to watch over the second half of the season.