SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating acted as if he’d been there, calmly walking back toward his bench coming out of the handshake line as hundreds of students engulfed his players on the court.
That’s when assistant coach James Ware grabbed Keating from behind and messed up his hair a little bit, just to let it be known this wasn’t any other win. The Broncos’ 85-71 triumph against Gonzaga on Thursday was, in fact, the biggest win of Keating’s young head coaching career and the Broncos' first at home against the Zags in 10 years.
“If you want to establish yourself, Gonzaga’s proven you have to do it through them,” said Keating, who is in his fourth year at Santa Clara and is in search of his first winning season. “They set the bar, and that bar’s pretty high.”
Kevin Foster hit 3-point daggers from all over the court to score a career-high 36 points and freshman point guard Evan Roquemore added 13, forming a winning backcourt that has Keating’s fingerprints all over it.
It was Keating who demanded that Foster lose weight this offseason to minimize his chances of suffering another foot injury like the fracture and subsequent surgery that ended his 2009-10 season. It was Keating who signed the under-the-radar recruit Roquemore in July and saw him develop into a floor general after Robert Smith transferred last month.
After recently suffering losses to Delaware and San Francisco at home before getting trounced by 25 at rival Saint Mary’s, the Broncos (11-9) came out and aggressively hounded Gonzaga into 19 turnovers while Foster was unstoppable from long range, hitting six 3-pointers.
“To be able to rebound from getting your butts handed to you, and now play the team that’s been the best team, that says a lot about our team,” Keating said. “Maybe this is a chance for us to grow.”
In the final minutes, Foster dominated. At one point, he scored 11 straight points for the Broncos to give them an eight-point lead with 2:35 to play, draining three 3-pointers during the stretch.
With 45 seconds left, the Leavey Center shook as Gonzaga coach Mark Few told his Bulldogs to stop fouling. For good measure, Foster hit another 3-pointer with 18.7 seconds left and some Broncos soon took to the top of the radio broadcast table as students rushed the court.
“He just carried us on his shoulders tonight,” forward Marc Trasolini said of Foster.
Gonzaga (13-6, 3-1 WCC), which saw its nine-game winning streak snapped, couldn’t stop Foster nor find any sort of rhythm with its Big 3 -- Steven Gray (17 points), Robert Sacre (16 points) and Elias Harris (six points) -- saddled with foul trouble. Foster put an end to any thoughts of Gonzaga getting back into the national rankings after struggling in the early part of the season.
“He hurt us on the drive, and we just couldn’t get stops at all the entire second half,” Few said. “We had a bunch of silly turnovers. They beat us to the ball over and over and over again.
“Hey, it’s life on the road. I’m disappointed. We went back to turning the ball over. We did not defend well. And we didn’t rebound well. Those are pretty good recipes for a loss.”
Gonzaga entered the game having won 23 of its past 25 meetings against Santa Clara, which had no players on its roster that had experienced beating the 10-time defending regular-season WCC champs. All five starters ended up scoring in double figures, and Keating said he was especially happy for the seniors.
The freshman Roquemore was also able to get a feel for what it’s like to score a big win -- one that he felt confident in getting even earlier in the day while talking with fellow students.
“They asked, ‘Are you guys going to win?’” Roquemore said. “Of course I said yes.”