Broncos Drop Hard-Fought Contest to 10th-Ranked Gonzaga
By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Gonzaga coach Mark Few wants to set the record straight for anybody who thinks his team is winning easily.
"That's what's so silly - they're all like this. They're just wars," Few said moments after the Bulldogs staged another second-half comeback.
Blake Stepp had 21 points and eight assists and No. 10 Gonzaga won its 10th straight game, 79-63 over Santa Clara on Saturday night in a game that was far closer than the final score indicates.
Cory Violette added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs (17-2, 7-0 West Coast Conference), who beat the Broncos for the sixth straight time. But they had to work for it.
A sellout crowd of 4,500 watched Santa Clara (12-10, 4-3) lose at home for the first time in five conference games in a physical battle between league rivals.
With 7:44 left, Violette and Travis Niesen got tangled up while battling for a rebound and Niesen landed hard on the floor after Violette's inadvertent headlock. Doron Perkins jumped in to help and pushed Violette, and both players received technicals.
"I felt this arm around my neck and I twisted it pretty badly," Niesen said. "I wanted to push him away, not because I was angry but because it hurt."
Perkins and Niesen each had 11 points for Santa Clara.
It marked just the second time 4-year-old Leavey Center has sold out, and the first since the Broncos last beat the Bulldogs, 84-71, on Feb. 22, 2001.
Gonzaga rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat San Diego 85-73 on Thursday night and again needed a strong second half to avoid an upset.
The Bulldogs' two losses this season came against No. 2 Stanford and third-ranked Saint Joseph's - the only two remaining unbeaten Division I teams.
Kyle Bankhead scored all 12 of his points after halftime, making back-to-back 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that put the game out of reach. Bankhead was 4-for-7 from long range.
"They've all been battles," Few said. "In a tough road environment to dig out a win against a team that wanted a piece of us, we're ecstatic."
Gonzaga's leading scorer, Ronny Turiaf, was held to eight points, half his average. The Bulldogs came out of halftime with an 8-0 run and had another 7-0 spurt midway through the second half. Santa Clara committed six turnovers in the first seven minutes after halftime and went cold from the floor, finishing at 35 percent.
"They are a seasoned, tough-minded team that knows how to win on the road," Santa Clara coach Dick Davey said. "They are solid as a rock. They have a team capable of beating a lot of people."
Members of Santa Clara's rowdy student section - nicknamed the Ruff Riders - began taunting Gonzaga more than an hour before tipoff. One young man hollered, "Hey Stepp, upset Saturday!"
Earlier in the day, three other top 10 teams lost - No. 4 Louisville, No. 5 Kentucky and eighth-ranked Cincinnati - and No. 2 Stanford barely avoided an upset at Oregon.
"The top 25 went down today," Violette said. "Before we came down here, we said 'We're not going to do that."'
The Broncos went hard to the boards early, leading to second-chance opportunities and a 38-36 halftime lead. Gonzaga trailed at the break for the first time in seven conference games.
Santa Clara's Kyle Bailey made a disputed jumper 3:04 before halftime. Bailey released the ball just before the shot clock expired, but Few argued. The officials then huddled in front of the TV screen to review the play, which was ruled a basket because there wasn't sufficient evidence otherwise.
Gonzaga managed only three shots in the first 4½ minutes and fell behind 13-6.