SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Gonzaga wants to avoid being in these situations, but it has aced three bounce-back tests following losses this season.
The Zags followed up a double-overtime setback to Florida with an overtime victory against Texas at the PK80 in Portland. They came back from a loss to Villanova in New York City with a 27-point rout over Washington in Seattle. They responded from a two-point road loss to San Diego State with a 33-point drubbing of visiting Pacific to open WCC play.
Gonzaga players said all the right things about moving forward following Thursday’s 74-71 home loss to Saint Mary’s. The Zags don’t have time to sulk with a quick turnaround before facing Santa Clara at the Leavey Center at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“It doesn’t need to be (tough),” coach Mark Few said of bouncing back from the emotional loss to the Gaels. “We need to keep plugging away and try to win a league championship. So we have to put this one away and go down there and play the way we’ve been playing.”
Playing the way they played in a 101-52 blowout over Santa Clara last month should be more than enough, but the Broncos have put together a nice stretch since that humbling loss.
Santa Clara (7-12, 4-3 WCC) pulled out a road win over San Francisco on Thursday, led by guard KJ Feagin’s 23 points. The Broncos have wins over Pepperdine, Portland and Loyola Marymount. Their three losses to GU, BYU and Saint Mary’s are by a combined 107 points.
“We’re already thinking about Saturday,” Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie said shortly after the Saint Mary’s game. “They’re going to have their students back, too. There’s going to be a crowd. It’ll be a fun game.”
No. 13 Gonzaga (16-4, 6-1) couldn’t maintain a nine-point second-half lead and was outplayed by the Gaels in the final 10 minutes.
Sophomore forward Rui Hachimura continued his strong play with a career-high 23 points. He’s had eight consecutive games in double figures, including 11 points in 16 minutes against the Broncos in late December.
“He’s a problem, for the country, WCC, he’s a problem in general,” point guard Josh Perkins said of Hachimura, who boosted his WCC scoring average to 15.1 points per game. “Next time we have to get the win for him when he plays like that.”
Added Perkins: “We’ll feel it (Thursday’s loss), but I think we’ll play really hard on Saturday.”
Gonzaga rolled in the first meeting, outscoring SCU 33-5 in points off turnovers. The Broncos had 21 turnovers and just 17 field goals. The Zags dished out 28 assists, made 54.5 percent of their shots and had seven players in double figures.
Senior Silas Melson buried five 3-pointers and led the way with 19 points. Santa Clara played zone defense nearly the entire game. The Zags made 13 3-pointers and scored 42 paint points.
“I don’t think anybody is hanging their heads after a loss,” Melson said. “We’ve been getting better. We’ve been doing a good job of it since winter break.”
Santa Clara relies on the guard trio of Feagin (17.6 points), Princeton transfer Henry Caruso (12.1 points, team-high 6.7 rebounds) and Matt Hauser (10.4 points, 3.7 assists). They combined for 24 points, eight assists and 11 turnovers in the December contest.
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