Santa Clara, CA – Santa Clara (10-14) treated their fans to a fantastic effort but it would be Gonzaga (20-3) escaping the Leavey Center with a narrow 54-52 victory.
A close one throughout, the first half was defined by strong team defense and hustle.
The Zags struggled early on, missing a handful of lay-ups and the Broncos made the most of their opportunities. Pushing the pace and moving the ball, the Broncos found open shots on broken plays. With four minutes remaining in the half, four of coach Kerry Keating’s players hit the deck to secure a loose ball that bounce around. Although Gonzaga secured the ball on this specific play, the effort rattled the visiting squad.
The one steadying presence in the first half for the Bulldogs was 7-1 sophomore, Przemek Karnowski. With a quiet, yet efficient 3-of-4 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free throw line, Karnowski finished the opening half with eight points and a leading four rebounds. (He would finish the contest with a game-high eight boards).
Not to be outdone, Santa Clara red-shirt freshman, forward Nate Kratch played far bigger than his 6’6 frame would suggest. Leading the hustle efforts in the paint, the forward was active in tipping rebounds out to teammates and two crowd-pumping “and-one” plays along the way to eight first half points. The solid team effort gave the Broncos a two-point lead at the half.
The second half was a roller-coaster ride of runs. Santa Clara jumped out to a quick start then both teams got into the bonus early and converted often. (Gonzaga: 11-of-13 in the half, 17-of-19 for the game; Santa Clara: 7-of-7 in the half; 11-of-12 for the game.) Leading to a down the wire shootout between Gonzaga junior Gary Bell Jr. (3-of-6 from deep in the half) and Bronco guards Evan Roquemore and Brandon Clark (both with nine points in the half). In the end, it was a near buzzer beater by Bulldog forward Sam Dower that would decide the game.
Two players that stood out for Santa Clara were senior guard Roquemore and junior guard Clark. Roquemore started the second half on a mission, with a beautiful chase-down block leading his own coast-to-coast spinning lay in on the other end. He would finish the half with two monster three’s (including a four-point play) to bring Santa Clara back from the brink of defeat. He has long range when he is feeling it (4-of-6 from down town on the night) and is not afraid to take the big shot. Clark plays with a great amount of passion and poise. He hustles and is aggressive on both sides of the floor. Only 6’0 tall, he can bang on the inside at times with the bigs. He had five rebounds, an impressive block and three late buckets over the outstretched arms of the imposing Karnowski. With another year to grow, the fearless Clark has a chance to impress.
For the Zags, forward Dower and center Karnowski showed steady, consistent outings on both sides of the court. However, it was the offensive second half of junior guard Gary Bell Jr. that caught my eye. Bell was extremely aggressive in this game and as a result led all players with 37 minutes played. He plays with confidence and strength beyond his stature on both ends of the court. He had his hands full defensively guarding the quick guards of Santa Clara, but he always stayed in front of his man. Offensively he came alive, hitting 3-of-6 from beyond the arc in the second half. He was also aggressive when attacking the lane and was able to get himself to the line where he was a perfect 4-of-4. He seemed to be in complete control with the ball in his hands and showed off his tremendous ability to move without the basketball as well.
Nick Camilleri is a Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.