SPOKANE — The Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated Santa Clara yet again Wednesday evening, but at least it didn’t cost Broncos coach Kerry Keating any money this time.
Keating, who paid for students’ hotel rooms to encourage them to return to campus before the dorms opened after holiday break when Gonzaga visited Santa Clara last month, watched helplessly as the Bulldogs clobbered the Broncos, 85-42.
The third-ranked Bulldogs, who have won 27 of the past 28 games between the West Coast Conference rivals, played superbly at both ends of the floor to build a 44-15 lead at halftime. The customary sellout gathering of 6,000 fans roared their approval in the nationally televised contest at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“Outstanding effort by our guys,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Probably the best I’ve ever seen in this building as far as our defense and rebounding and, heck, even our offensive execution.
“Got no complaints there. Just a total game.”
After Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster scored the first basket at the 1-minute mark, Gonzaga ran off 15 consecutive points and held the Broncos scoreless for more than 7 minutes. Gonzaga shot 60 percent from the field (18-for-30) in the opening half and limited Santa Clara to 21.4 percent (6-for-28) in building its huge halftime lead.
“They played great and made us look really pedestrian,” Keating said. “They’re obviously one of the best teams in the country.”
The Bulldogs outscored Santa Clara 50-16 in the paint and had a 45-22 advantage in rebounding. Elias Harris led Gonzaga with 17 points and nine rebounds, and Kelly Olynyk added 14 points and seven rebounds. Both sat out much of the second half.
“That’s getting to be pretty common,” Gonzaga senior guard Mike Hart said. “Our big guys are doing a heck of a job playing together.”
Hart, the former walk-on, drew ovations for his reckless, hustling play. He had six points, seven rebounds and two steals, but his value goes well beyond statistics.
“He’s one of a kind,” teammate Gary Bell Jr. said. “He’s the ultimate Zag.”
Added Keating: “He’s what every coach wants to have on their team, no matter what level you’re at. He relishes his role.”
Few couldn’t agree more.
“He’s amazing,” Few said. “He’s the ultimate effort guy and the ultimate scrapper and tough as they come. His play inspires our guys, inspires our staff.”
Hart helped limit Foster, Santa Clara’s career scoring leader, to four points on 2-for-10 shooting.
“Any coach that doesn’t want that guy (Hart) on his team is a fool,” Keating said.
The Bulldogs, riding their second nine-game winning streak of the season, improved to 26-2 overall and 13-0 in the conference.
The Broncos, who had won two straight and seven of nine, slipped to 19-9 and 7-6. Santa Clara played the Bulldogs tough in an 81-74 loss Jan. 4.
Gonzaga owns the best record in NCAA Division I heading into Saturday’s home game against San Diego (4 p.m., Root Sports).