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Analysis: Gonzaga never challenged in 59-point romp over Santa Clara

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 24, 2019, 11:03 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr.  celebrates a 98-39 victory over Santa Clara Thursday  in Santa Clara, Calif. (Tony Avelar / AP)
Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. celebrates a 98-39 victory over Santa Clara Thursday in Santa Clara, Calif. (Tony Avelar / AP)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Somewhere between the opening tip – won by Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke – and Clarke’s dunk prior to the first media timeout, it was game over.

Santa Clara struggled to score in Spokane on Jan. 5 when it mustered a season-low 48 points in a 43-point loss. The Broncos really, really struggled to score in Thursday’s rematch, requiring nearly 6 minutes before hitting their first bucket. By then, Gonzaga had put up 14 points.

The fourth-ranked Zags rolled to their 27th consecutive WCC road victory, perhaps none as easy as their 98-39 dismantling of the Broncos in front of a Leavey Center-record crowd of 5,094.

“The offense was really good, but I’m really impressed to go on road and hold a team to 38,” said senior point guard Josh Perkins, who finished with 18 points and eight assists. “Our defense was really good and something we’ve been taking real serious.

“It was a complete game. We’ve been talking about putting two halves together, and we did that.”

Gonzaga (19-2, 6-0 WCC) maintained a one-game advantage over San Francisco in the conference standings. The Zags have a week to prepare before facing BYU on Thursday in Provo.

Santa Clara (11-10, 3-4) went to forward Josip Vrankic early, but he missed two shots wildly against Clarke’s defense in the post.

The Broncos tried to work the shot clock, but that just resulted in forced 3-point attempts by Tahj Eaddy and Trey Wertz as the shot clock expired. SCU’s first decent look came nearly 5 minutes into the half.

Perkins guarded Eaddy and Zach Norvell Jr. defended Wertz. The Broncos’ backcourt duo, which averages 28.5 points per game, tallied 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting.

“Just trying to take a little bit more pride in (defense) every game,” Norvell said. “Seeing a guy go on a decent scoring run, lock in on the defensive end and help my team on that end first to get us going.”

It was a toss-up whether Gonzaga was better on the offensive or defensive end. The Zags had 13 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Rui Hachimura and Clarke dominated inside, a rerun of the first meeting. Perkins rattled off eight straight points. Norvell Jr. hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Corey Kispert swished a pair of 3s and drove past Josh Martin for a two-handed dunk.

“Before we start a game, we talk about making a statement that we’re No. 1 in the country,” Hachimura said. “It doesn’t matter who we are against. We have bigger goals.”

Gonzaga’s lead went from 14-0 to 20-2 to 30-9 to 48-10. The Broncos scored seven points in the final 2 minutes to trail 53-17 at half. According to a tweet from Stats by STATS, it was the third time in 10 years a Division I team has led by 36 or more at halftime in a road game.

The Zags chased several records throughout the second half. Santa Clara absorbed the worst loss in program history. The previous mark came last year when Gonzaga beat Santa Clara 101-52 in Spokane.

The Zags committed just two turnovers, beating the previous mark of three versus San Francisco in 1995 and Penn State in 1988.

The 59-point margin came up just short of the most lopsided in GU program history, set earlier this season in a 101-40 victory over Denver.

“Two turnovers is exceptional in any game and then you factor in (playing) on the road,” coach Mark Few said. “The defensive effort might be a school record for DER (defensive efficiency rating).”

Santa Clara’s student section was loud at the outset and even fired off an “overrated” chant after the Zags missed a shot attempt in the second half. GU led 64-25 at the time. As the Broncos’ deficit kept growing, roughly half of the student section hit the exits.

Gonzaga’s five starters all reached double figures, despite sitting out a big portion of the second half. Hachimura scored 14 of his 16 points in the opening half. He played 18 minutes. Clarke had 12 points and six boards.

Norvell scored 16 points and collected eight rebounds. Kispert added 13 points. Filip Petrusev came off the bench to scored 12 points in 14 minutes.

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