SPOKANE – Gonzaga coach Mark Few, a giant in college basketball, usually speaks softly and somewhat conservatively about his team.
Alas, Gary Bell Jr. was so impressive Saturday night, Few felt compelled to praise the former Kentridge High School player in a manner the coach has rarely exhibited during his 22 years at Gonzaga.
“He’s the best freshman guard defender we’ve ever had, for sure,” Few said after Bell shut down Santa Clara star Kevin Foster in No. 25 Gonzaga’s 82-60 romp at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Bell, who led Gonzaga (13-2 overall, 3-0 West Coast Conference) in scoring with a season-high-tying 15 points for the second straight game, was the primary defender who held Foster to a season-low nine points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Bell held Foster to 0-for-4 shooting on 3-pointers.
Foster, who led the nation in 3-pointers made and attempted last season, again ranks among the leaders in both categories. Foster also has been leading the West Coast Conference in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game before Saturday.
“We told (Bell) what (Foster) did to us last year (36 points),” senior guard Marquise Carter said with a smile. “G.B. was a little nervous, but we all know Gary is a really good defender, and we had a lot of trust in him.”
Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said Foster “was pressing,” but Keating lauded the play of Bell and point guard Kevin Pangos.
Bell echoed Few in praising Pangos (10 points, five assists) and Carter (six points, four assists) for their strong play. The Zags also benefited from inside work from Sam Dower (17 points, six rebounds), Elias Harris (12 points, seven rebounds) and Robert Sacre (seven points, eighth rebounds, four blocked shots).
The Broncos (8-7, 0-2) bolted to a 10-0 lead, and Gonzaga did not lead until Dower buried a rare 3-pointer to give the Zags a 28-25 halftime edge. An 18-0 run early in the second half finished off the visitors before a sellout crowd of 6,000.