SPOKANE — Gonzaga lit up the scoreboard from beginning to end, but all the 20th-ranked Bulldogs wanted to talk about afterward was defense.
The Bulldogs had a season-high 28 assists, 13 3-pointers and caused 21 turnovers in an all-around, 101-52, dismantling of Santa Clara on Saturday.
“We had a pretty good defensive effort (on Thursday) and we just wanted to keep that up,” Silas Melson said after scoring 19 points against the Broncos. “I think that’s why we brought so much energy.”
Zach Norvell Jr. had 14 points and a career-high eight assists, Josh Perkins added 12 points and eight assists, and Gonzagafinished with its most assists since 2000, three shy of a school record.
“I believe defense always turns into offense,” Nelson said. “If you’re bringing energy on defense, things will open up on offense.”
The 21 turnovers were the most Gonzagahas forced this season and the Bulldogs only had seven of their own.
“Coach (Mark) Few always talks about taking care of the ball,” Norvell said. “We’re a much greater team when we’re taking care of the ball and the shots will go.”
Gonzaga opened the game on a 15-0 run and were never threatened. Perkins made Gonzaga’s first shot of the game for a 3-0 lead and he hit another 3 from the corner on the Bulldogs’ next possession. Johnathan Williams added a dunk and Norvell had a putback and two free throws as the Bulldogs scored on their first five possessions.
Rice transfer Jeremy Jones scored a career-high 11, Rui Hachimura had 11 and Corey Kispert and Jacob Larsen each added 10 for Gonzaga (12-3, 2-0 West Coast Conference).
It was the largest margin of victory over Santa Clara in 90 meetings, topping 43 points in 2013.
Emmanuel Ndumanya ended Santa Clara’s game-opening scoreless drought at the 14:39 mark with a hook shot in the lane. The Broncos were just 2 of 6 from the field over the first nine minutes with seven turnovers.
Norvell’s reverse layup and Hachimura’s alley-oop dunk briefly energized the quiet winter-break crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center in the first half.
Gonzaga made its first 10 shots inside the arc and hit 8 of 17 first-half 3-pointers for a 52-25 lead at the break. Perkins had seven assists in the opening half as the Bulldogs had 16 helpers on 20 field goals en route to shooting 62.5 percent. The Broncos were undone by 10 first-half turnovers, leading to 11 fewer field-goal attempts, and the Zags’ hot shooting.
“Even in the second half, we played the game the right way,” Few said. “A big lead like that, just seven turnovers. It was a good weekend for taking care of the ball. A good weekend for our defense.”
Ndumanya scored a career-high 12 points for Santa Clara (4-10, 1-1). KJ Feagin, who ranks second in the WCC in scoring at 18.7 points per game, was held to nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
“I just thought we got annihilated,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said.