SPOKANE — Gonzaga was struggling with injuries and facing a Santa Clara team up for the challenge in the teams’ West Coast Conference opener Saturday night.
So David Stockton took over and led the No. 24 Bulldogs to a big win.
“We have to step up,” the senior guard said after scoring a career-high 21 points in the Zags’ 74-60 win over the Broncos. “We have to hold the fort until they get back.”
With one starter out and two nicked up, Stockton scored 15 of his points in the second half to lead the Bulldogs (11-2, 1-0), who have won 12 of the previous 13 conference titles.
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“We had to dig in deep, get to about option E or F, and we found a way to do that,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.
Stockton, the son of former NBA great John Stockton, is certainly that when it usually comes to scoring points. His season high coming in was 10 as he was averaging 6.2 points per game.
Gonzaga was without starting forward Sam Dower Jr., the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, who was out with a back injury. Kevin Pangos scored 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting but missed a stretch of the second half while receiving treatment for a toe injury.
Also, guard Gary Bell Jr. was dealing with a hand injury suffered in the game’s first minutes. Someone had to step up for Gonzaga, and Stockton did it on both ends, adding four steals to his three assists and 8-of-12 shooting.
Holding a 53-50 lead with 8:14 left, the Bulldogs forced Santa Clara turnovers on five of the next six possessions. Included in those were two steals by Stockton and another by Drew Barham, making his first start of the season in Dower’s place.
“I think that has got to be our identity,” Stockton said of the defense that keyed a 10-0 game-deciding run. “We have to be scrappy, junkyard dogs (and) be really dialed in on defense.”
Brandon Clark scored 22 points as the Broncos (7-7, 0-1) lost for the seventh consecutive time in Spokane.
“You can’t turn the ball over on the road, especially here,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said.
Jared Brownridge scored 12 points and Evan Roquemore had 11. However, Roquemore also had seven turnovers, part of 15 for the Broncos.
Pangos fought through the toe injury, which Few said flares up whenever it gets hit. The junior guard had five points in the 10-0 run, including a transition three-pointer to cap it.
“I thought Kevin again was really courageous,” Few said. “As bad as he’s hurting to come out there and make those plays at the end that sealed it.”