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John Blanchette: Josh Perkins reaches the pinnacle of success at ‘Point Guard U’ with career assist record

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 21, 2019, 11:09 p.m.

Who’s counting?

Who wasn’t?

Obviously, the tally was in progress up on press row at McCarthey Athletic Center. Across the way, three Kennel Clubbers waited with giant cut-out numbers 6, 6 and 9, ready to hoist them aloft at the historic moment, although for a rather uncomfortable period a couple of those digits were displayed in an, uh, unfortunate manner. Gonzaga staffers kept track, too, and one whispered to Josh Perkins as he trotted off the floor at halftime that he needed just a single assist to become the school’s all-time leader.

“I know,” Perkins acknowledged.

So, yeah, he was counting, too.

Records will do that – both taking you out of the moment and amplifying it at the same time, and with the volume knob in Spokane cranked up to 11 on anything Zags, it’s not like this was going to slide by unnoticed by anyone. Even any teammate who might be on the receiving end of the consequential pass.

“It was kind of in the back of my mind,” Brandon Clarke admitted.

Until it was right in front of him.

About 11 minutes into the second half, the Gonzaga forward swallowed up Pepperdine’s Darryl Polk Jr. in front of the Bulldogs’ bench with big, fat pick and allowed Perkins to rub past and curl down the left side of the lane. Meanwhile, Clarke slipped down the right side for the inevitable rendezvous with the pass Perkins flicked above the rim, and with the catch and release assist No. 669 was dutifully verified.

There would be one more – another lob to Rui Hachimura – in quick order, and then a timeout and celebration at the bench, Hachimura anointing the man of the moment with a splash of water.

In the midst of all this, the Bulldogs mowed down another West Coast Conference victim 92-64 – clinching the regular-season title outright, in fact – and up in the stands, Matt Santangelo marveled at the confluence.

“That this incredible team success is tied to the individual achievement,” Santangelo said, “is really the remarkable part.”

It was Santangelo’s record of 668 that Perkins broke on Thursday night, just as he’d climbed past Kevin Pangos in the Creighton game and John Stockton against Tennessee and Jeremy Pargo against Pacific and Blake Stepp in the wild romp over Saint Mary’s.

That’s quite a ladder.

Which makes you wonder: Is it different breaking this record at Gonzaga than at some other outposts on the college basketball trail?

“That’s a great question – and I think so,” Santangelo said. “You know, the Point Guard U thing – don’t tell Casey Calvary – and all. There’s just a great history of guard play here and with the fact that we’re all looking up to the godfather himself in John Stockton, I think it means a little more here.”

It was Stockton’s record that Santangelo topped in 2000, and the congratulatory call reached him in Steve DeLong’s training room, the message being, “It’s about time.”

Which is what Santangelo told Perkins on Thursday night. Guess he saw it coming a while ago.

“When he was a freshman, you always knew he was a creative passer – it’s that sometimes it didn’t always end up with the guys in the same-colored uniforms,” Santangelo said with a smile.

And, yes, sometimes that still happens. Perkins closed in on the record with assists on six straight GU baskets late in the first half – Zach Norvell Jr. getting the first four – “When he gets hot,” Perkins said, “you have to find him.” Once the Zags built their lead to 33 points, their interest in defense seemed to dissipate and their focus turned to getting Perk his record. The man himself seemed intent on doing it with a flourish, which is why a couple of passes wound up in the front row.

“Tonight was a little rough,” he allowed, “but these last couple of years I’ve learned to manage the game and take care of the ball and really try to get my guys in the right positions.”

That doesn’t mean it’s ever quite enough for everyone.

“The scrutiny he’s been under and the expectations of this program are insane,” Santangelo said. “And when you’re the lead guard, you’re going to shoulder the brunt of that. He does see the game a little differently. He was always a capable scorer, but it wasn’t necessarily his M.O. He’s obviously a great facilitator or we wouldn’t be talking about this now. He’s owned his persona and shouldered the responsibility.

“I come back to the fact that the program is elevated to where it’s at. If it’s a .500 team and he breaks the record, then maybe I feel bad. But because the program is where it is, and with the athletes they have and the guys they’re recruiting – and because Perk’s Perk – it’s fun to be a part of it.”

And to keep counting.

Follow along with the Zags

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