Being challenged the past couple of months has been rare for top-ranked Gonzaga. Especially in conference play and especially at home.
Perhaps a little bit of a scare will be a good thing for the No. 1 team in the country.
Corey Kispert scored 25 points, Drew Timme had 16 of his 18 points in the second half and No. 1 Gonzaga won its 50th straight at home, beating Santa Clara 89-75 on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs won their 27th straight overall dating to last season, but struggled to shake the Broncos for most of the night.
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“It was good for us, I think, to be in a tighter game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I give all the credit to Santa Clara. They came out with way more spirit and effort, and ran their offense with more purpose and conviction … and we weren’t quite as sharp on our end.”
Timme was a big reason why Gonzaga (23-0, 14-0 West Coast Conference) was finally able to pull away in the second half. Limited to just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Gonzaga’s primary interior scorer made 7 of 9 shots as the Bulldogs pulled away from a 40-38 halftime lead.
Jalen Suggs nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and Joel Ayayi added 11 points for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs trailed by as many as 10 in the first half.
“In the beginning we just went through the motions. They played with a lot more passion to start the game,” Suggs said. “After they made that run that just kind of lit a fire under us and woke us up. From then on I think we made a lot of good plays.”
Gonzaga’s 50-game home win streak matches the longest in school history. The Bulldogs have also won 20 straight games by double-digits, matching the longest streak ever by a team ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25. UCLA also won 20 straight by double-digits during the 1971-72 season.
“It’s not easy to get up for every single one of them,” Few said. “I think our squad has done an unbelievable job to this point of doing that and tonight we got beat to some balls especially early at inopportune times and they took full advantage of it.”
Guglielmo Caruso led Santa Clara (10-7, 4-5) with 19 points, and Giordan Williams added 18. The Broncos led 19-9 just eight minutes into the game and held the advantage for most of the first half before Gonzaga pulled ahead just before the break.
Santa Clara hung around for most of the second half and trailed just 73-66 after Josip Vrankic’s layup with 6:44 left, but could get no closer.
Gonzaga had trailed for only 50 seconds total in 10 home games going into Thursday’s matchup. The Bulldogs ended up trailing for 11:27 of the first half as the Broncos provided a formidable challenge.
Gonzaga had not trailed in nearly 172 minutes of game time before falling behind in the opening minutes to Santa Clara.
Santa Clara: Coming off a lengthy break without games in late January and early February, the Broncos should go into the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas with confidence after a win over Pepperdine and playing the Bulldogs as tough as anyone in the WCC this season.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs were sloppy committing 16 turnovers. It was the third-highest total in a game this season and most since committing 17 against Pepperdine in mid-January.
Santa Clara: The Broncos next game is expected to come in the WCC Tournament.
Gonzaga: Hosts Loyola Marymount on Saturday.