SANTA CLARA (CBS / AP) — Robert Sacre scored 20 points to make up for a critical mental gaffe early in the second half and No. 24 Gonzaga kept its conference title hopes alive with a 73-62 victory over Santa Clara on Thursday night.
Reserve Sam Dower added 18 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs, who led by only two points with 14 minutes to play before pulling away for their eighth win in nine games.
That pulled Gonzaga within one-half game of first-place Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference in its quest for a 12th straight regular season championship. The Bulldogs (21-4, 11-2) and 21st-ranked Gaels split their two games this season.
Evan Roquemore had 21 points for Santa Clara (8-18, 0-13), which has lost 14 straight since beating Eastern Michigan on Dec. 29.
Sacre led a dominant performance in the paint for Gonzaga. He and Dower repeatedly scored on uncontested shots inside against the smaller Broncos and combined to go 13 of 17 from the field while forcing Santa Clara to settle for perimeter shots.
It nearly worked against the Bulldogs as Roquemore kept the Broncos close in the second half until Gonzaga pulled away down the stretch.
Conference player of the week Kevin Pangos added 10 points for the Bulldogs, who play two of their final three conference games on the road, including at San Francisco on Saturday.
Santa Clara was playing its first game since announcing on Monday that Kevin Foster, the WCC’s leading scorer, would miss the rest of the season while suspended as a result of his Jan. 21 arrest for driving under the influence.
It was the biggest blemish on what has been a frustrating and disappointing season for the Broncos, whose losing streak is the longest in school history.
Sacre had 10 points in the first half, most on short hooks, but Gonzaga got its biggest lift early from Dower. The sophomore didn’t miss a shot in the first 20 minutes and scored eight points during a 13-3 run that gave Gonzaga a 22-14 lead.
Dower, who entered the game averaging 8.8 points, had 12 by halftime and finished 7 of 8 from the field.
The Bulldogs, who lost 85-71 at the Leavey Center last season, led by as many as nine points before the Broncos closed within 32-27 at halftime.
Santa Clara stayed close in the second half but had no answer for Gonzaga’s interior game. Sacre scored seven of the Bulldogs’ first 13 points, including an emphatic dunk that made it 45-37. The 7-footer was charged with a technical foul after hanging on the rim, though, and that briefly gave the Broncos momentum.
Roquemore’s 3-pointer with 14:09 left pulled Santa Clara within 45-43 and had the near-capacity crowd buzzing. Gonzaga responded with a 14-4 run.
The game was halted briefly midway through the first half when the shot clock above one basket went out. The problem was corrected during halftime.
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