For the first time in a little over four years, the Santa Clara Broncos crossed the 70-point threshold against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but it wasn’t enough as the visiting Zags walked out of the Leavey Center with a gutsy 87-72 victory.
The big news, however, will be a left ankle injury suffered by Killian Tillie in the first half that knocked him out for the rest of the evening and puts his immediate future in doubt. Without the senior, Gonzaga had to dig deep, but this team has proven its toughness all season and did so again in this contest.
Filip Petrusev was a giant, reaching a career high 31 points (14-18 FG) to go along with 9 rebounds and 3 steals in his finest performance as a Zag. Ryan Woolridge put together another rock-solid outing with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in 39 minutes. Drew Timme provided a strong 19 minutes for the shorthanded Zags, scoring 11 points and picking up 5 hard fought rebounds. Admon Gilder rounded out the double-digit scoring with 11 points of his own off the bench.
The first half won’t be remembered as one of Gonzaga’s cleanest halves of basketball, as there were some extended stretches of head-scratching basketball rather than the juggernaut we’ve seen over the last three weeks.
Gonzaga struggled with its offensive execution in the half court, uncharacteristically forcing some passes and failing to capitalize on the gaps left by Santa Clara’s pressure zone. Even so, the Zags looked like they were starting to settle in until Tillie rolled his left ankle while contesting a shot at the rim.
Suddenly, the Zags were left scrambling for the remainder of the half without their problem-solver on the floor and the rotation whittled down to six guys. The Broncos took advantage of the post-Tillie chaos, hitting a trio of threes late in the half to cut Gonzaga’s lead down to a single point.
As the teams went into the break, Mark Few announced on the broadcast that Tillie would unsurprisingly be out for the remainder of the game, although it was encouraging to see him walk back to the bench under his own power.
Thanks to a little team talk and a few minutes to collect themselves, the Zags came out of halftime on a mission to punch adversity back in the face on behalf of the injured Tillie. Petrusev, in particular, was transformed as he carried the team on his back and ravaged the Santa Clara defense. The sophomore forward scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half on 10-12 shooting from the field.
Gonzaga stretched the four point halftime margin to 15 points with just under 10 minutes left to play, but the Broncos mounted one more push to get as close as seven points at the five minute mark. From there, back to back baskets from Petrusev put the Gonzaga lead back at double digits and it was lights out from there as the Zags did enough to survive with their depleted roster.
The question now is how long they can be expected to do so.