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No. 1 Gonzaga clinches WCC title with win over Santa Clara

Bulldogs win 10th consecutive conference title

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Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) celebrates his 3-point basket during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Santa Clara, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Spokane, Wash.
Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) celebrates his 3-point basket during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Santa Clara, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak) Photo Gallery

SPOKANE — It was senior night for top-ranked Gonzaga, and seniors Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton helped deliver a hard-fought 81-69 victory over Santa Clara on Saturday.

Nembhard scored 21 points, including a pair of late 3-pointers that iced it, and Bolton contributed 18 points.

“It was good for them to step up and make plays like that,” coach Mark Few said, adding that Nembhard was “delivering big time.”

Drew Timme had 23 points and nine rebounds and Gonzaga won its 10th straight West Coast Conference regular-season title.

“It means even more this year,” Few said. “The league is the best it’s been since I’ve been here.”

With the WCC possibly sending four teams to the NCAA Tournament this year, “to be undefeated is quite an accomplishment,” Few said.

Gonzaga (23-2, 12-0) won its 16th consecutive game and its 67th straight home game, a streak that dates to 2018 and is the longest in the nation. The Zags are the current front-runner for the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Freshman Chet Holmgren added 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots for Gonzaga.

PJ Pipes scored 27 points and Jalen Williams 15 for Santa Clara (18-10, 8-5), which ranks third in the WCC. The team is fighting for Santa Clara’s first postseason tournament berth since 2013.

“Pipes is really, really playing well,” Few said. “He hit a lot of tough shots.”

The 12-point margin of victory was the lowest of the season in a WCC game for Gonzaga.

The games was tied at 18 with 10 minutes left in the first half. But the Zags erupted for a 20-4 run and Santa Clara missed 10 of 11 field-goal attempts. Pipes then scored seven points to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 41-31 by halftime.

Santa Clara got within single digits several times early in the second half, but the Bulldogs led 59-46 with 12 minutes left.

Pipes’ 3-pointer drew Santa Clara to 59-53 with just under 10 minutes left, but a 13-6 run by the Zags made it 72-59.

A pair of 3-pointers by Nembhard lifted Gonzaga to a 78-62 lead with just over two minutes left, and Santa Clara did not threaten again.

“We battled all the way through until the end,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said. “It’s tough playing against a team like Gonzaga but I couldn’t ask for more from my guys.”

This was the final home game of the season for Gonzaga, which honored seniors Bolton, Nembhard, Matthew Lang and Will Graves.

PROS RETURN

Former Gonzaga stars Kelly Olynyk, Killian Tillie and Jalen Suggs, who now play in the NBA, were at the game. “That’s what makes this place so special,” Few said. “It’s great they want to come back.”

SHOOTING WOES

Gonzaga has the highest field goal percentage in the nation, but the Zags managed to shoot only 40% against Santa Clara. The Broncos weren’t much better, hitting 41% of their shots.

BIG PICTURE

Santa Clara: The Broncos have lost 24 straight games to Gonzaga, dating to 2011. … Four Broncos starters average in double figures.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have won 33 straight conference games dating to a loss at BYU in 2020, the longest such streak in the nation. … Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring (89.9 points per game), field-goal percentage (53.5%) and scoring margin (25.5 ppg). … Since 2017, the Zags have spent 35 weeks ranked No. 1 out of 110 AP polls. Duke is second at 18 weeks in that span.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga wraps up the regular season at San Francisco on Thursday and at Saint Mary’s on Saturday.

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