Petrusev scores to lead No. 2 Gonzaga past Santa Clara 87-72

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Filip Petrusev was confident he could score every time he got the ball for No. 2 Gonzaga on the low block no matter defense Santa Clara tried. He almost did, too.

And despite taking another hit to their roster, the Bulldogs kept rolling.

Petrusev had a career-high 31 points and nine rebounds and Gonzaga pulled away late in the second half and beat Santa Clara 87-72 on Thursday night.

“I knew one guy couldn’t stop me,” Petrusev said. “If the double was late, I just took advantage of it. Or if they never sent a double, I just take my time and get to my move. Simple as that.”

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Ryan Woolridge added 13 points and six assists and Drew Timme scored 11 points to help the Bulldogs win their 14th straight and remain unbeaten in the West Coast Conference.

Gonzaga (22-1, 8-0 WCC) won the game, but lost Killian Tillie to a low left ankle sprain in the first half. The forward is averaging 13-plus points per game.

“We started the year low on bodies. We’re really low on bodies (now),” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.

Gonzaga lost a big part of its offense when Tillie went down midway through the first half after blocking a shot by Williams. Tillie immediately clutched his left leg and remained down for several moments before being helped off the court. He later returned to the Bulldogs bench with a towel draped over his head.

Petrusev more than made up for it with the biggest game of his career. The 6-foot-11-inch Serbian shot 14 of 18 while helping Gonzaga to a 62-40 advantage in the paint.

Josip Vrankic had 15 points and 12 rebounds for Santa Clara (17-6, 4-4) and DJ Mitchell scored 17 points.

Petrusev repeatedly beat the Broncos inside, backing down his defender before turning for a short shot as the Bulldogs built a 67-52 lead midway through the second half.

“That was clearly the difference in the game, their ability to score in the paint,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said. “We didn’t have a good answer for that despite trying a couple different strategies. Petrusev is really good down there.”

Williams and Vrankic nearly rallied Santa Clara. Williams grabbed a loose ball and raced in for a dunk, then scored off a putback. Vrankic tipped in a miss then scored down low to cut the gap to 73-66.

Petrusev stopped the run with back-to-back baskets.

“He’s done a great job delivering on the low block,” Few said. “He’s really done a nice job there. He threw out to shooters today. Even if we didn’t shoot it, we were able to drive and close out. We got some good action on that.”

Gonzaga led comfortably most of the first half, but went cold for a 3-minute stretch. That allowed Santa Clara to make its best run.

Williams and Wertz made back-to-back 3-pointers and after Petrusev scored four straight for Gonzaga. Mitchell followed with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 38-36.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs won their 21st straight against the Broncos, but this one was much tighter than the 50-point rout two weeks ago. The big concern is Tillie, who already missed six games after offseason knee surgery. His latest injury could keep him out longer. Few said Tillie will be reevaluated on Friday.

Santa Clara: The Broncos looked much more in sync than they did in Spokane when they lost 104-54. They did miss numerous open shots, especially beyond the arc, and those were costly. Trey Wertz had an off night scoring and that didn’t help.

STREAKS AND STREAKS

Gonzaga has won 36 consecutive conference road games, the longest streak by any Division I team over the last 30 seasons according to Elias Sports Bureau. Overall the Bulldogs have won 14 straight on the road.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: Plays at San Francisco on Saturday. The Bulldogs have won 16 straight against the Dons.

Santa Clara: Plays at Portland on Saturday.

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