Junior guard Josh Perkins was one of the key reasons Gonzaga made a run to the NCAA Championship game last season, forming one of the nation’s top backcourts with West Coast Conference Player of the Year Nigel Williams-Goss. With Williams-Goss, a second round pick of the Utah Jazz, moving on to play professionally in Serbia, the Bulldogs, who host Santa Clara on Saturday, are turning to Perkins to be their floor leader in an effort to win their 17th regular-season conference title in 18 years.
The 6-3 Perkins came through in fine fashion in the team’s 81-48 victory over Pacific in their WCC opener on Thursday night, scoring 16 points to along with five assists, two steals and no turnovers while also playing strong defense on Tigers’ star Jahlil Tripp, who finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. It was a nice bounce-back for Perkins from his worst game of the season in a 72-70 loss at San Diego State when he finished with five points on 1-of-7 shooting and had six turnovers to go with seven assists. “I owed it to myself and my team to respond like that,” Perkins told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “I didn’t take care of the ball, and that’s what they trust me to do as their point guard. I let them down against San Diego State. I had to respond in the first game of league.”
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ABOUT SANTA CLARA (4-9, 1-0 WCC): The Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak with a 72-65 home victory over Pepperdine on Thursday night despite allowing the Waves to shoot 52 percent from the floor, not a good omen heading to Spokane to face a Gonzaga team that ranks 20th nationally in field goal shooting percentage (50.3). Junior guard Matt Hauser scored 19 points and forward Henry Caruso, a grad transfer from Princeton, added 16 points to lead Santa Clara, which won despite being outrebounded 35-25. Junior guard KJ Feagin, who added 15 points in the win, leads the team in scoring (18.7) with Caruso (13.6), freshman forward Josip Vrankic (11.0) and Hauser (10.8) also averaging in double figures.
ABOUT GONZAGA (11-3, 1-0): The Zags have excellent balance and depth and also have the talent to make another deep run into the NCAA tourney with six players averaging 9.9 points or more. Senior forward Johnathan Williams leads the team in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (7.6) and was a preseason All-WCC pick by the league’s coaches along with Perkins (14.1). Freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. (13.1), 6-10 sophomore forward Killian Tillie (11.9) and senior guard Silas Melson (10.1) also are averaging double digits with sophomore forward Rui Hachimura, who had a team-high 19 points off the bench against Pacific, coming in at 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
1. Gonzaga leads the series with the Broncos 59-30 and has won the last 15 in a row dating back to Jan. 20, 2011, when Santa Clara defeated the visiting Bulldogs 85-71.
2. The Zags are 244-29 in West Coast Conference games under head coach Mark Few.
3. Gonzaga finished with a 38-12 edge in bench points against Pacific.
PREDICTION: Gonzaga 92, Santa Clara 79