The 22nd ranked Zags improved their record to 19-3 overall and 9-1 in the West Coast Conference, while the Broncos – coached by former Bulldog player and assistant coach Jennifer Mountain – fell to 7-14 overall and 3-7 in league.
“I thought tonight was a really good all-around effort,” explained Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves. “We played so hard and I thought we made it really difficult for them to get into any kind of rhythm offensively because of our defense. We were just running all around and did a really nice job of being aggressive.”
It was the fifth time this season GU held an opponent under 40 points, the fourth time in West Coast Conference action and the second-straight contest. The 52-point victory was also the largest margin of victory for the Zags this season; with the previous best being a 50 point win over Colgate University, Nov. 30.
Gonzaga held Santa Clara to 14 total field goals – third lowest field goal total this season – including just six in the final period. The Bulldogs also forced the Broncos to turn the ball over a season-high 29 times and scored an impressive 42 points of the miscues.
“That was as good a defensive effort as we’ve had — we’ve had some good ones this year, but that was an excellent one because they are a good offensive team,” stated Graves.
Santa Clara was averaging 68.3 points per game coming into the contest.
The Bulldogs, who had opened league play with seven of their first nine games on the road and were playing at home for the first time in 19 days, had all 14 players score in the win, and all but one grabbed a rebound.
Redshirt sophomore Shelby Cheslek led the way, scoring a season and game-high 14 points – two off tying her career-high. She also added seven rebounds, had one assist and blocked one shot.
“I’m really proud of her [Shelby] because she is capable offensively,” said Graves of the 6-5 center. “She made a couple of really strong moves, which is nice to see. It was just great to see her being so aggressive — loved it. She is always good on the boards and great defensively, but tonight she brought it on the offensive end.”
Three other starters broke double-figures; junior Keani Albanez had 13, senior Jazmine Redmon added 12 and senior Haiden Palmer scored 10. Redmon also had six assists, no turnovers and four steals.
The Broncos actually led 6-3 less than three minutes into the contest after the Bulldogs started uncharacteristically slow, hitting just one of their first six field goals.
A 3-pointer by Albanez changed the momentum though and started a massive 23-3 run that opened a 26-9 advantage with nine minute remaining in the first. Albanez added another long-ball, while redshirt sophomore Shaniqua Nilles had five points and sophomore Kiara Kudron had four in the run.
Gonzaga’s lead ballooned to 28 points by halftime at 45-17.
The Zags held the Broncos without a field goal for the final 3:55 of the first half and for the first 6:17 of the second half. By the time Santa Clara hit a field goal in the final stanza, Gonzaga had rattled off a 17-1 spurt that put the score at 62-18 at 14:43.
Bulldog walk-on Laura Sullivan – a two-year manager with the program before walking on the team this year – scored her first collegiate point as time dwindled down in the second. Sullivan stole the ball from Bronco Taylor Williams, was fouled with 1:38 left in the contest and sent to the line to shoot the double-bonus. Sullivan hit the second to put the score at 87-36.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” said Graves of Sullivan scoring. “She works hard and does such a good job in practice. She doesn’t get a ton of time, but it was nice to see her get rewarded tonight.”
A jumper by sophomore Chelsea Waters one minute later gave Gonzaga its largest lead of the contest – 53 points – at 89-36.
Gonzaga ended the game shooting 45.6 percent (31-of-68) from the field and was 76.7 percent (23-of-30) from the charity stripe. The Bulldogs outrebound the Broncos 49-24, had 27 second chance points and 22 fast break points.
Santa Clara was led by Arteivia Lilomaiava and Jo Paine who each scored eight points.
The Bulldogs return to action Saturday when they host the University of San Francisco. The game is set to tip at 2 p.m.