The first time Gonzaga Bulldogs played Santa Clara this season, Broncos coach Kerry Keating essentially paid fans to come out and watch.
The second time Bulldogs played Santa Clara this season, Keating should have paid the Bulldogs for putting on a clinic at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“They played great and made us look truly pedestrian,” Keating declared after the 3rd-ranked Gonzaga crushed Santa Clara, 85-42. “They’re manifestly one of the best teams in the country.”
Gonzaga raced to leads of 15-2, 22-5 and 40-11 before “settling” for a 44-15 lead at the half. Last month, the Broncos played Bulldogs tough in an 81-74 loss, when Keating paid hotel bills for Santa Clara Broncos students who returned to campus from the holiday break before the dorms re-opened.
Gonzaga’s starters sat out lots of the 2nd half Wednesday, but the Gonzaga still finished with a 45-22 edge in bouncing back and a 50-16 advantage in points in the paint. The Zags shot 56.9 % from the field and held Santa Clara to 30.2 %.
“Outstanding effort by our guys,” Gonzaga Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “Probably the best I’ve ever seen in this building as far as our defense and rebounding and heck, even our offensive execution.
Elias Harris led Bulldogswith 17 points and 9 rebounds in 23 minutes. Front-court partner Kelly Olynyk added 14 points and 7 rebounds in just 18 minutes. Scores
“If Kelly’s not the best player in the country, he’s second best behind (Indiana guard Victor) Oladipo,” Keating related. “Our big men are doing a heck of a job playing together,” Gonzaga senior guard Mike Hart said.
No one will ever confuse Hart with a national player of the year candidate, but the former walk-on continues to draw raves for his hustling play at each end of the floor. Hart shut down Santa Clara star Kevin Foster and racked up 6 points, 7 rebounds and two steals while earning repeated ovations from the sellout crowd of 6,000.
“He’s one of a kind,” teammate Gary Bell Jr. Said. “He’s the ultimate Zag.”
“He’s what every coach wants to have on their team, regardless of what level you’re at,” Keating recounted. “He relishes his role.”
Brandon Clark led Santa Clara Broncos with 14 points. Marc Trosolini was next with just 8 points. Hart helped limit Foster, Santa Clara’s best-ever leading scorer, to 4 points on 2-for-10 shooting.
“He basically took Kevin out of the game direct from the start,” Keating announced. “The 1st play of the game (when Hart was fiercely protecting Foster), he didn’t care if he was going to get a foul.
“He was going to tell Kevin, ‘This is how it should be. You have to handle it.’
The Bulldogs, riding their second 9-game lucky streak of the season, improved to 26-2 overall and 13-0 in the West Coast Conference.
The Broncos, who had won 2 in a row and 7 of 9, slid to 19-9 and 7-6. Santa Clara’s points and margin of defeat were the worst of the season.