Gonzaga, the No. 2 team in the nation, had looked pretty much unstoppable since a little hiccup early in January.
Since struggling to beat Portland and Pepperdine, the Bulldogs had reeled off wins by an average of 35 points heading into Thursday’s game against Santa Clara.
The Broncos bucked recent tradition and gave the Bulldogs all they could handle. Santa Clara trailed by just four at halftime and hung around throughout most of the second half, trailing by just seven at 73-66 before eventually losing, 85-72.
But the win might have been costly for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie left the court with an ankle injury in the first half and did not return.
Gonzaga (22-1, 8-0 West Coast Conference) stays on the road and heads to San Francisco to face the Dons on Saturday with Tillie’s status up in the air.
“We’ll see how bad it is,” coach Mark Few told the Spokesman Review of Tillie’s injury. “Just not catching a break. It’s a shame because he was playing as good as he’s ever played these last four to five games. … If there’s any silver lining it’s that (and) it’s not up high or broken.
“I liked our guys’ resiliency. After Tillie went down our guys hung with it,” Few added.
Tillie, who missed the first four games of the season while recovering from knee surgery, was averaging 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game before being injured. He scored only three points.
Freshman Drew Timme picked up the slack against the Broncos, coming off the bench to score 11 points and grab five boards. He most likely will start in place of Tillie against San Francisco.
The Dons (16-7, 5-3) are coming off a road win against San Diego where they beat the Toreros, 69-44. Charles Minlend scored 21 points as San Francisco outscored San Diego 22-10 early in the second half to take control.
Two important runs blew open a close game. Minlend scored nine points early and then he capped an 11-0 spurt with a 3-pointer as the Dons’ lead ballooned to 19 at 49-30 with 10:42 to play.
The Dons shot 54.8 percent in the second half and outscored San Diego, 42-22, to win by 25, their third-largest margin of victory of the season and their biggest WCC win in nearly five years.
They’ll have a much stiffer challenge against the Bulldogs, even if Tillie is out. In fact, San Francisco has not defeated Gonzaga since Feb. 18, 2012, a streak of 16 losses.
If San Francisco is to have a chance, the Dons will have to find a way to stop Filip Petrusev.
Against the Broncos, Petrusev scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Zags to their 14th straight win and their record 35th consecutive WCC victory.
Petrusev scored 20 points in the second half and was more than happy to carry the load after Tillie left.
“I knew one guy couldn’t stop me,” Petrusev said. “If the double (team) was late, I just took advantage of it and went to work right away. Or if they never sent a double, I just took my time and got to my move. Simple as that.”
–Field Level Media