SPOKANE — 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, 1-0 WCC) posted its 18th consecutive victory over Santa Clara. 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 non-conference 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 early 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.
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.