Daye leads Gonzaga’s rout of Santa Clara

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LAS VEGAS (AP)—Even with a 30-point lead, Gonzaga didn’t slow down. Austin Daye kept shooting 3-pointers, his teammates kept pushing the ball, and the Zags kept rumbling toward their usual spot in the West Coast Conference tournament final.

With their game clicking on both ends of the Orleans Arena court, the Zags just couldn’t help themselves from squeezing every drop of fun out of this one.

Daye scored a career-high 28 points, Micah Downs hit four 3-pointers, and No. 14 Gonzaga reached its 12th consecutive conference final with a 94-59 thrashing of Santa Clara in the semifinals Sunday night.

With its 15th straight win over West Coast opponents this season, Gonzaga (25-5) advanced to face second-seeded Saint Mary’s, which beat Portland 71-61 in the late semifinal.

Downs scored 18 points and Jeremy Pargo had 16 for the Zags, whose 17-1 run late in the first half opened a 22-point lead that took the suspense out of their seventh straight win over the Broncos (16-17). Gonzaga led by 40 points late, yet still kept shooting their season-high 13 3-pointers and throwing down alley-oop dunks well after the game was decided.

“It’s hard to stop us when we have our break going and we’re having fun,” Pargo said. “We were trying to get our break going against a team like that who wants to slow it down.”

Matt Bouldin added 11 points and seven assists for the Zags, whose most impressive accomplishment was holding WCC Player of the Year John Bryant to 13 points and 10 rebounds. Santa Clara couldn’t compete without big help from its star, who had 24 points and 27 rebounds in the Broncos’ quarterfinal win over San Diego.

“It starts with him and ends with him when you prepare to play them,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “A team effort is what we wanted to do, and that’s what we got. … We played great on both ends. We really wanted to establish this thing on that defensive end and play at our pace. When we got that thing going up and down the court, that’s when we’re at our best.”

Gonzaga countered Bryant’s inside presence early on with seldom-used 7-foot-5 junior Will Foster, but the Zags’ strategy mostly was a group effort. Their aggressive help defense freed up freshman Kevin Foster to score 12 of his 17 points in the first half, but the Broncos couldn’t keep up.

Bryant needed two rebounds in the final moments to finish his 16th consecutive game with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“They did a real good job imposing the pace early and getting it up the court,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “Fatigue was a little bit of a factor. They were rested with a double bye, but we’ll learn from that.”

James Rahon led the Broncos with four 3-pointers among his 20 points.

Gonzaga closed the first half on a run that included 13 straight points while holding Santa Clara without a field goal for the final 5:43. The Zags then held the Broncos scoreless for nearly 5 more minutes midway through the second half, taking a 30-point lead with 8:50 to play.

“We know the last two games are precious, and that’s how we played,” Downs said.

Daye scored inside and out, going 10-for-13 and hitting three 3-pointers. After Pargo scored 14 points in the first half, Downs added 10 in the second half as the Zags thrived with little help from leading-scorer Josh Heytvelt, who scored just three points.

The Zags have won eight of the last 10 West Coast tournament titles, losing only to San Diego in the title game in 2003 and 2008, both times on the Toreros’ home court. With the tournament on a neutral court for the first time in its 23-year history, Gonzaga traveled from Spokane with a few thousand cheering fans packed into the comfortably snug arena that’s usually home to minor-league hockey, concerts and a Thanksgiving college hoops tournament.

Gonzaga led 31-25 before starting its decisive first-half run, which included back-to-back 3-pointers by Pargo and another by Bouldin. The Zags blew the game open mostly without Heytvelt, who went 1-of-7 with four rebounds after getting a career-high 29 against Santa Clara last week.

Heytvelt didn’t score until hitting a free throw with 13:54 left in the second half, putting Gonzaga up by 24.

Bryant left the game for good after hitting two free throws with 1:49 left, getting hugs from his coaches and teammates who watched his transformation from an overweight, 6-foot-11 Bay Area prospect into an impressive low-post player in the past two seasons.

“Our team is a perfect example of why there need to be postseason tournaments outside of the NCAAs and the NIT,” Keating said. “When you have a player the caliber of John Bryant, there’s got to be a great showcase for them, (but) we’re one game away from having a winning record.”

Golden State Warriors forward Ronny Turiaf was among the Gonzaga alumni in the stands.

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