Jared Brownridge and his Broncos put on a show in the early going. No turnovers for the first 8:48 of the game, a lot of three point attempts and a full serving of number 23 allowed Santa Clara take and hold a lead.
On his own, Brownridge was either tied with or ahead of Gonzaga for most of the half. The WCC Newcomer of the Year had given teams a season's worth of games to scout him, but he continued to put up big numbers. By the end of the half he had 18 points, one above his season average for a full game.
For the Zags it was pretty much the Przemek Karnowski and Gary Bell show. Karnowski got the scoring started by hitting both of his free throws. Yes, you read that correctly, Karnowski (49% FT) made two consecutive free throws. Bell, who decided to rock a white headband tonight, scored five straight points to give the Zags a one point lead.
Ball control was the key to the Broncos' success. They coughed it up just three times in the half, and when they did, they kept the Zags from scoring. On the other hand, when the Zags turned it over ten times and the Broncos took full advantage. At the half Santa Clara held a 17-2 edge in points off turnovers.
Smart, savvy and opportunistic, that was Santa Clara in the first half.
Gonzaga wasn't awful, or even close, which makes the Broncos' showing all the more impressive. The Zags made 11 of their 22 shot attempts, though they were an uncharacteristic 0-5 from deep.
Don't let the Broncos 14-18 record fool you, this is a good team. It's led by seniors that won the postseason CIT as freshmen and CBI as juniors. Early in the season, a large and talented freshman class had to be worked in and brought up to speed. Well, now they're in and blazing fast.
This is Gonzaga they're playing, after all.
The Zags came out of the break driven. Kevin Pangos hit the team's first three after ten seconds of play. Gonzaga made its first four field goals of the half.
Defensively, the Zags stepped up as well. Santa Clara turned the ball over three times in the first four minutes of the half after committing just three the entire half prior.
Unfortunately for the Zags' comeback attempt the Broncos were scoring well when they weren't turning the ball over.
Jared Brownridge was pretty well taken out of the game so his teammates picked up the slack.
Sam Dower came up huge for the Zags in the second half. He had just one free throw attempt in the first half but 14 in the second. By the end of the game he was a perfect 15-15 from the line with 23 points. Dower is now part of a three way tie for highest free throw percentage in a game in Gonzaga history.
The two teams traded baskets and leads over the final minutes. Whenever it felt like the Zags had the momentum, and a two possession lead, the Broncos would come up with a big shot. Brandon Clark and Evan Roquemore, two of the upperclassmen on the team, typically were responsible for those momentum killers.
Sam Dower though, could not be stopped. Yannick Atanga tried and fouled out as a result. He took ten free throws over the final seven minutes.
Gonzaga finally claimed a comfortable lead, compared to where they had been all game long, with 1:30 left to play. Of course, Sam Dower was responsible. He scored six straight points to turn a one point deficit into a five point lead.
The two teams traded a pair of lay-ups and free throws to keep the lead steady. Then, with 33 seconds left, Evan Roquemore completed the old-school three point play and pulled his team within two. Gary Bell was called for a travel on the ensuing inbounds play and the ball returned to the Broncos.
Santa Clara had no shot clock, the ball, and a chance to take the lead. Momentum shift.
Jared Brownridge awoke from his second half slumber. With 9 seconds left he swished a 12 foot jumper to bring the teams even once more.
The problem? Nine seconds remained.
Speedy David Stockton went coast to coast in just six seconds for a lay-up and the lead.
The problem? Three seconds remained.
In the madness that followed the Broncos heaved up a prayer, but before they could say amen it was blocked to the ground by Kyle Dranginis. All for not, it was after the Buzzer. The Zags, and their mediocre resume, survive the scrutiny of the selection committee and advance to the semis.