First order of business
Gonzaga knocked off a No. 1-ranked team for the first time on Nov. 21 with an 89-87 thriller over Duke in the Maui Invitational championship game, arguably the biggest nonconference win in program history. Rui Hachimura hit the go-ahead basket and Hachimura and Brandon Clarke combined to block four shots in the final minute. “What a basketball game,” coach Mark Few said.
Top of the charts
The victory over Duke propelled Gonzaga into the top spot in the AP poll for the third time in program history. The Zags reached No. 1 in 2013 and returned in 2017 after a 22-0 start. Gonzaga stayed in the top spot this season for two weeks before falling to Tennessee. The Zags returned to the top spot Feb. 25, again replacing Duke, which lost to North Carolina.
And not in a good way. Gonzaga lost consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 2014 when it fell to Tennessee 76-73 on Dec. 9 and North Carolina 103-92 on Dec. 15. The setback to the Volunteers knocked Gonzaga from the No. 1 ranking. The loss at North Carolina dropped the Zags to No. 8 in the AP poll. “We lost it on defensive rebounding,” Hachimura said after the UNC loss. “It was kind of similar (to Tennessee).”
Rui leashes Huskies
Hachimura buried another game-winner Dec. 5, this one in more dramatic fashion. His mid-range jumper with less than a second remaining lifted Gonzaga past rival Washington 81-79 at the Kennel. Hachimura finished with 26 points.
Josh Perkins took over the top spot on Gonzaga’s all-time career assists list in the second half against Pepperdine. It seemed fitting that the record-breaker was Perkins’ lob pass to Brandon Clarke for a layup, a combination that has connected all season. The assist moved Perkins past Matt Santangelo, who had 668 assists. Perkins is closing in on Santangelo’s single-season record of 225. Perkins has 205. “He’s in the midst of a heck of a senior year,” Few said.
Clarke throws block party
Clarke showed early on he was going to provide rim protection with six blocks versus Duke. The junior forward kept right on swatting, breaking the program’s single-season record against San Francisco with seven regular-season games remaining. Clarke has 99 blocks – that ranks sixth on GU’s career list – and he’s 15 from breaking the WCC single-season record set by USF’s Hondre Brewer in 2001. “There have been so many great bigs and players (here),” Clarke said. “To have my name even near them means (a lot) to me.”
And in a good way. Hachimura and Clarke have been the epitome of scoring consistency. They reached double-figures in all 31 regular-season games. The closest call was in the first meeting with Pacific, when each finished with 10 points. In the rematch last week, Hachimura scored 27 and Clarke added 21. Their best combined performance was 49 points against Creighton.
The Zags rolled through the conference season undefeated for the fifth time in program history. Gonzaga’s closest game by point differential was a 12-point road win over San Diego, followed by 13-point road victories over San Francisco and Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga’s 27-point average margin of victory established a new WCC record. It’s believed to be the highest margin of victory in any conference since UNLV’s 29.6 in the Big West in 1991.
Gonzaga is putting up record numbers offensively. GU averages 89.8 points (previous best was 83.5 last season), shoots 53.4 percent (previous best 52.0 in 2015) and 18.3 assists (previous best 17.9 in 2004). The Zags lead the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency (127.5). That’s Gonzaga’s best since Pomeroy starting crunching numbers in 2002. Only Villanova (127.8) last season and Wisconsin (129.0) in 2015 have finished a season with a higher figure.
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