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Gonzaga rewind: Anton Watson, Braden Huff shine in otherwise dim result for Bulldogs; Santa Clara incurs WCC fine

Jan. 12—On Dec. 29, Gonzaga forward Anton Watson sat at a podium at the McCarthey Athletic Center in the wake of an 84-74 loss to San Diego State and confidently voiced a goal to a group of reporters: "I don't think we're trying to lose the rest of the year."

Two weeks later, the Bulldogs are resetting expectations again after dropping their fifth game of the season, 77-76 to host Santa Clara Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd of 4,200 fans at the Leavey Center.

If the Zags could've cloned Watson four times, they might have avoided their first West Coast Conference loss in 2023-24, second road loss this season and their first loss to Santa Clara in 27 games.

The senior forward couldn't have exerted much more energy in the game, playing all 40 minutes while matching his career high of 32 points (shooting 14 of 18 from the field) and tying Gonzaga's single-game record with six steals.

"Anton was spectacular tonight," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "It's tough, we had some not great games from a lot of other people. We didn't get much of anything from other people, so it's hard on the road to get it done."

Watson got some help, particularly from point guard Ryan Nembhard and reserve forward Braden Huff, who accounted for 24 of Gonzaga's 42 points in the half, and 24 of the 27 scored by someone other than Watson.

Watson and Huff get a second look in our day-after rewind and we share some news about a penalty levied by the WCC after Santa Clara students stormed the court Thursday night.

All-out Anton

Watson played 120 games in a Gonzaga uniform before his first 30-point outing. The Gonzaga Prep product, who was raised in North Idaho before moving to Spokane, has now scored 32 points in two of his past 12 games and continues to be more of a focal point within the Zags' offense.

The senior is Gonzaga's top scorer, taking that mantle from Graham Ike after the Wyoming transfer scored only five points before fouling out inside the final minute of Thursday's game. Watson also leads the Zags in steals (1.6 per game) and is second in rebounding (7.4) and assists (2.6).

Watson created many of his scoring opportunities in a game in which the Zags only furnished eight assists as a team — the second fewest they've had this season (five vs. UConn).

The forward occasionally took on Santa Clara defenders in isolation, converted putbacks on four of his five offensive rebounds and capitalized on Broncos turnovers, scoring a handful of his baskets in transition.

Watson, a career 62% free-throw shooter, also made all four of his attempts from the line. The longest-tenured Zag missed just four shots from the field while six other GU players combined to miss 31.

"Watson was just phenomenal tonight," Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said.

Huff's contributions were also critical in a game in which Ike was saddled with foul trouble, picking up his fourth approximately 90 seconds into the second half.

The redshirt freshman scored 14 points off the bench, making 6 of 10 from the field, adding five rebounds and two blocked shots. Huff also made a key 3-pointer late in the first half, moments after Santa Clara's Jalen Benjamin made a layup in transition to give the Broncos their biggest lead of the game (38-25).

"I thought Braden really had a nice second half, really did some nice things," Few said. "Ryan found him on some nice ball-screen action and dug out some rebounds."

Costly celebration

Santa Clara incurred a $5,000 fine from the WCC for storming the court moments after Watson's pass landed in the hands of an opposing player, effectively sealing the upset at the Leavey Center.

The conference recently introduced a court-storming policy "to assure members of the visiting team, coaches, officials and administrative staffs have the opportunity to safely leave the playing surface prior to fans entering the court."

The WCC's penalty structure, adopted last November, includes a $5,000 fine for a first offense, with second and third offenses resulting in fines up to $25,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Fines levied by the WCC will be donated to an organization associated with the late Bill Russell, an NBA Hall of Famer who played college basketball at the University of San Francisco.