SANTA CLARA, Calif. – As strange as it may seem, Gonzaga coach Mark Few thinks Santa Clara is a tougher opponent to defend now that the Broncos have suspended their leading scorer for the rest of the season.
"Without Kevin Foster, they're much more unpredictable," Few said after his 24th-ranked Bulldogs pulled away late to beat Santa Clara 73-62 on Thursday night. "They were easier to defend with the one guy. If you look at their games, they play everybody tough and they're still playing hard."
The Broncos were playing their first game since announcing on Monday that Foster, the West Coast Conference's leading scorer, would miss the rest of the season as a result of his Jan. 21 arrest for driving under the influence.
It was the biggest blemish on what has been a frustrating and disappointing season for the Broncos, whose 14-game losing streak is the longest in school history.
Evan Roquemore helped provide some bright spots with 21 points for Santa Clara (8-18, 0-13), which hasn't won since beating Eastern Michigan on Dec. 29.
Raymond Cowels added 16 points while Denzel Johnson had 11 for the Broncos.
Coach Kerry Keating's squad was within 45-43 with 14 minutes left.
"We've found ourselves in a position in the second half where it goes from one possession to more than that, and we haven't been able to overcome that," Keating said. "That was the key time."
Robert Sacre scored 20 points and reserve forward Sam Dower added 18 points and seven rebounds for Gonzaga, which has won eight of nine.
The win over the Broncos pulled Gonzaga within one-half game of first-place Saint Mary's in the WCC in its quest for a 12th straight regular season championship. The Bulldogs (21-4, 11-2) and 21st-ranked Gaels split their two games this season.
Sacre led a dominant performance in the paint for Gonzaga. He and Dower repeatedly scored on uncontested shots inside against the smaller Broncos and combined to go 13 of 17 from the field while forcing Santa Clara to settle for perimeter shots.
It nearly worked against the Bulldogs as Roquemore kept the Broncos close in the second half until Gonzaga pulled away down the stretch.
Conference player of the week Kevin Pangos added 10 points for the Bulldogs, who play two of their final three conference games on the road, including at San Francisco on Saturday.
Sacre had 10 points in the first half, most on short hooks, but Gonzaga got its biggest lift early from Dower. The sophomore didn't miss a shot in the first 20 minutes and scored eight points during a 13-3 run that gave Gonzaga a 22-14 lead.
Dower, who entered the game averaging 8.8 points, had 12 by halftime and finished 7 of 8 from the field.
The Bulldogs, who lost 85-71 at the Leavey Center last season, led by as many as nine points before the Broncos closed within 32-27 at halftime.
Santa Clara stayed close in the second half but had no answer for Gonzaga's interior game. Sacre scored seven of the Bulldogs' first 13 points, including an emphatic dunk that made it 45-37. The 7-footer was charged with a technical foul after hanging on the rim, though, and that briefly gave the Broncos momentum.
Roquemore's 3-pointer with 14:09 left pulled Santa Clara within 45-43 and had the near-capacity crowd buzzing. Gonzaga responded with a 14-4 run.
The game was halted briefly midway through the first half when the shot clock above one basket went out. The problem was corrected during halftime.