SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga was struggling with injuries and facing a Santa Clara team up for the challenge in the teams’ West Coast Conference opener Saturday night.
So David Stockton took over and led the Bulldogs to a big win.
“We have to step up,” the senior guard said after scoring a career-high 21 points in the Zags’ 74-60 win over the Broncos. “We have to hold the fort until they get back.”
With one starter out and two nicked up, Stockton scored 15 of his points in the second half to lead the Bulldogs (11-2, 1-0), who have won 12 of the previous 13 conference titles.
“We had to dig in deep, get to about option E or F and we found a way to do that,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.
Stockton, the 5-foot-11 son of former Gonzaga and NBA great John Stockton, is certainly that when it usually comes to scoring points. His season high coming in was 10 as he was averaging 6.2 points per game.
Gonzaga was without starting forward Sam Dower Jr., the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, who was out with a back injury caused by a fall in a recent loss against Kansas State. Kevin Pangos, who was averaging a team-high 18.3 points despite dealing with a toe injury, scored 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting, but missed a stretch of the second half while receiving treatment.
Also, guard Gary Bell Jr. was dealing with a hand injury suffered in the game’s first minutes. Someone had to step up for Gonzaga, and Stockton did it on both ends, adding four steals to his three assists and 8-of-12 shooting.
Holding a 53-50 lead with 8:14 left, the Bulldogs forced Santa Clara turnovers on five of the next six possessions. Included in those were two steals by Stockton and another by Drew Barham, making his first start of the season in Dower’s place.
“I think that has got to be our identity,” Stockton said of the defense that keyed a 10-0 game-deciding run. “We have to be scrappy, junkyard dogs (and) be really dialed in on defense.”
Brandon Clark scored 22 points as the Broncos (7-7, 0-1) lost for the seventh consecutive time in Spokane.
“You can’t turn the ball over on the road, especially here,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said.
Jared Brownridge scored 12 points and Evan Roquemore added 11. However, Roquemore, a senior guard, also had seven turnovers, part of 15 for the Broncos.
Pangos fought through the toe injury, which Few says flares up whenever it gets hit. The junior guard had five points in the 10-0 run, including a transition 3-pointer to cap it.
“I thought Kevin again was really courageous,” Few said. “As bad as he’s hurting to come out there and make those plays at the end that sealed it.”
Pangos was actually off the court when the Zags went on an 8-0 run, building a 46-38 lead with a little more than 12 minutes left.
Santa Clara roared back after a timeout, pulling within two numerous times — the last at 51-49 on John McArthur’s jumper with 9 minutes remaining.
But with Pangos back on the court, the Bulldogs used a 12-1 run over the next 4:10 to take a 13-point lead. The run, fueled by three Gonzaga steals and five Santa Clara turnovers, was capped by a transition 21-footer from Pangos — one of his three 3-pointers.
Clark put an end to the run with a 10-foot jumper at the 4:18 mark but the damage had been done.
The Broncos led 26-22 with 4 minutes to go in the first half, but Gonzaga finished the period on a 9-0 run with Pangos scoring five. Santa Clara’s Clark put an end to the run with five consecutive points following intermission.
Center Przemek Karnowski led Gonzaga with nine rebounds, while Yannick Atanga led Santa Clara with nine boards off the bench.
The last six Santa Clara losses in Spokane came by an average of 31.2 points, with the Broncos holding the margin under 10 points just one time.