Santa Clara, CA – The Gonzaga Bulldogs entered Saturday’s matinee matchup against the Santa Clara Broncos on an offensive tear of late, leading the nation in scoring offense (89.3) and field goal percentage (53.5). They also surpassed the 100-point mark in their last two games against Pepperdine and BYU. The game against the Broncos would also be the first true road contest of the season for Gonzaga, as their previous road games had been postponed due to COVID. Santa Clara is coming off a road win at Pacific and the Herb Sendek led Broncos have shown some improvement overall this year, highlighted by non-conference wins over Stanford and TCU. However, the upset bid was denied, mainly because of the performance from Drew Timme. The junior big man proved to be the difference in this one as his 32 points on (14-of-18) shooting led both teams, as the Bulldogs soared past Santa Clara 115-83.
There was limited attendance permitted inside the Leavey Center, but that didn’t stop the small student section that got in from being excited. Despite that energy from the crowd, the Zags went to work on offense early, ignited by an easy layup from guard Andrew Nembhard. Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few decided to go with some high-low action, wanting Timme and Chet Holmgren to get going from the jump to silence the crowd. The Bulldogs displayed their quick bursts of scoring with a quick 15-6 lead at the 16-minute mark. Holmgren showed off his unique skillset in the scoring run, securing the rebound and dribbling the ball up the court, only to pull up for a 3-point make from the top of the key. In a play like this, Holmgren made it clear what type of potential he has and why he is a projected Top 5 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Zags also saw valuable production from their guard play with the Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton knocking down two 3-pointers to give his team the 31-11 lead.
The Broncos started to give a little bit of resistance when they hit three consecutive 3-pointers, cutting the deficit down to 16. Santa Clara’s 6-6 guard Jalen Williams seemed to be the main bright spot for the Broncos, scoring 12 points in the first half. That push from Santa Clara ended shortly though as Timme continued to have his way around the hoop, displaying his impeccable footwork and savviness, connecting on back-to-back post points. The rest of the first half saw Nembhard further controlling the tempo and did what he does best, which is finding driving angles to the basket and finishing through contact with explosiveness. The Zags finished the first half with a 60-41 advantage, shooting a remarkable 65 percent from the field and 46 percent from the 3-point line.
The second half was more of the same from the No. 2 team in the nation, as they pushed the pace and demonstrated their fluid ball movement and quick passing. Holmgren also reappeared in the opening stretch of the second half, with a nice coast to coast dunk following a defensive board. The Broncos gained some momentum with some production from the senior center Josip Vrankic (15ppg) and from Williams. Santa Clara made it a 68-52 deficit, but the comeback attempt was soon halted after a 30-second timeout was called by Few with 16:20 remaining. At that point, Santa Clara cooled off offensively and Gonzaga did not put their foot on the brake, extending their lead to 30 points (84-54) after a Nembhard 3-pointer. The next five minutes Timme efficiently continued his great first half with more paint scoring. Timme sat the final ten minutes of action and the Bulldogs’ bench was emptied. The talented freshman duo of Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis saw more minutes and built upon the 30-point advantage, especially when Hickman hit two consecutive 3-pointers, one of which came off a sloppy inbounds pass from Santa Clara. It was then where a Hickman 3-pointer with 5:23 left put the Bulldogs over the century mark for the third straight game. The final minutes of play had more reserves come into the game for Gonzaga in their 115-83 win.
Besides, the performance from Timme, Nembhard put up 19 points and six assists, while Gonzaga received double doubles from Holmgren (11 points, 12 boards) and Anton Watson (11 points, 11 rebounds). The Broncos shot well from the field at just under 40 percent, but they simply could not stop Gonzaga on offense. For Santa Clara, the WCC leading scorer, Williams finished with 17 points on (6-of-16) shooting and Keshawn Justice had 13 points on the day.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (14-2, 3-0) now look ahead to next week, as they travel to Stockton to face Pacific on Thursday. Gonzaga will more than likely become the new No. 1 team in the AP Poll since Baylor has lost back-to-back games. Being the number one team in the country is nothing new to Few’s program as they hope to play themselves to another deep run in March. he Santa Clara (11-6, 1-1) still has a shot at an at large bid but will need some more quality wins in conference play and a deep run in the WCC tournament. The Broncos will play at St. Mary’s on January 20th.