Hachimura leads No. 7 Gonzaga past Santa Clara, 91-48
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Santa Clara never had a chance with No. 7 Gonzaga at full strength for the first time this season.
Rui Hachimura scored 25 points, Brandon Clarke added 16 and Gonzaga routed Santa Clara 91-48 to open defense of its West Coast Conference regular-season title.
“That was exactly what we wanted to do,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said about the impressive offensive and defensive performance. “We had our defense going. We were able to score in transition.”
With key contributors Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall back from injuries, Gonzaga (14-2) posted its 18th consecutive victory over Santa Clara since 2011. Josh Perkins had six points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Keshawn Justice scored 14 points, Josip Vrankic had 11 and Tahj Eaddy 10 for Santa Clara (9-7, 1-1). The Broncos had won six in a row.
“We’re going to keep working to get better, and learn from this experience,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said.
Gonzaga has won 23 straight WCC openers, with its last loss in 1996. The Bulldogs have won six straight WCC regular-season titles.
But the West Coast Conference had a strong nonconference record, and Few is expecting plenty of battles in the next two months.
“This looks like the best league out West,” Few said. “We are going to have some real tough outs.”
The Zags used a stout defense to run away with this game, holding Santa Clara to 33 percent shooting. The Broncos made only 4 of 17 from 3-point range and 10 of 22 free throws. They also committed 23 turnovers.
Hachimura scored 14 points to help Gonzaga jump to a 22-10 lead.
“I want him aggressive 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Few said, when asked if Hachimura was asked to play strong at the start of the game.
A 9-1 run put the Zags up 33-14.
Gonzaga led 50-27 at halftime behind 18 points by Hachimura and 13 by Clarke. The Zags shot 56 percent in the first while holding Santa Clara to 35 percent.
Hachimura converted a three-point play to ignite a 16-3 run that put the Zags up 70-34 midway through the second. The Broncos did not threaten after that.
Tillie played his first minutes of the season after suffering an ankle injury in preseason practice. Crandall also returned Saturday after missing a month with a fractured hand. That meant Gonzaga was at full strength for the first time this season. Few said the return of Tillie meant forwards Hachimura and Clarke can play harder without worrying so much about foul trouble.
Five straight wins by a margin of better than 40 points could push the Zags higher in the Top 25.
Hachimura made 8 of 12 field goals and all nine of his free throws to lead all scorers.
Clarke blocked five shots and had a couple of steals. Gonzaga totaled nine blocks and 14 steals. Santa Clara had one block and one steal.
Santa Clara: The Broncos have lost 41 of their past 43 games against Gonzaga, and haven’t won in Spokane since 2007 ... They own wins this season over Southern California and Washington State of the Pac-12 ... The Broncos came in averaging 73.5 points per game.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have won five games in a row since suffering a pair of losses that knocked them from first in The AP Top 25 ... The Zags lead the nation in field goal percentage at 53.3 percent and are second in scoring at 93.7 points per game ... Gonzaga won its previous four games by a margin of 43.7 points. ... Gonzaga improved to 200-15 in the McCarthey Athletic Center since it opened in 2004.
Santa Clara: Hosts Pepperdine on Thursday night.
Gonzaga: Hosts Pacific on Thursday night.