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Stepp scores 23 points for Bulldogs

2/1/2004

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Gonzaga coach Mark Few wants to set
the record straight for anybody who thinks his team is winning
easily.

"That's what's so silly -- they're all like this. They're just
wars," Few said moments after the Bulldogs staged another
second-half comeback.

Blake Stepp had 21 points and eight assists and No. 10 Gonzaga
won its 10th straight game, 79-63 over Santa Clara on Saturday
night in a game that was far closer than the final score indicates.

Cory Violette added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs
(17-2, 7-0 West Coast Conference), who beat the Broncos for the
sixth straight time. But they had to work for it.

A sellout crowd of 4,500 watched Santa Clara (12-10, 4-3) lose
at home for the first time in five conference games in a physical
battle between league rivals.

With 7:44 left, Violette and Travis Niesen got tangled up while
battling for a rebound and Niesen landed hard on the floor after
Violette's inadvertent headlock. Doron Perkins jumped in to help
and pushed Violette, and both players received technicals.

"I felt this arm around my neck and I twisted it pretty
badly," Niesen said. "I wanted to push him away, not because I
was angry but because it hurt."

Perkins and Niesen each had 11 points for Santa Clara.

It marked just the second time 4-year-old Leavey Center has sold
out, and the first since the Broncos last beat the Bulldogs, 84-71,
on Feb. 22, 2001.

Gonzaga rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat San Diego 85-73
on Thursday night and again needed a strong second half to avoid an
upset.

The Bulldogs' two losses this season came against No. 2 Stanford
and third-ranked Saint Joseph's -- the only two remaining unbeaten
Division I teams.

Kyle Bankhead scored all 12 of his points after halftime, making
back-to-back 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that put the game out of
reach. Bankhead was 4-for-7 from long range.

"They've all been battles," Few said. "In a tough road
environment to dig out a win against a team that wanted a piece of
us, we're ecstatic."

Gonzaga's leading scorer, Ronny Turiaf, was held to eight
points, half his average. The Bulldogs came out of halftime with an
8-0 run and had another 7-0 spurt midway through the second half.
Santa Clara committed six turnovers in the first seven minutes
after halftime and went cold from the floor, finishing at 35
percent.

"They are a seasoned, tough-minded team that knows how to win
on the road," Santa Clara coach Dick Davey said. "They are solid
as a rock. They have a team capable of beating a lot of people."

Members of Santa Clara's rowdy student section -- nicknamed the
Ruff Riders -- began taunting Gonzaga more than an hour before
tipoff. One young man hollered, "Hey Stepp, upset Saturday!"

Earlier in the day, three other top 10 teams lost -- No. 4
Louisville, No. 5 Kentucky and eighth-ranked Cincinnati -- and No. 2
Stanford barely avoided an upset at Oregon.

"The top 25 went down today," Violette said. "Before we came
down here, we said 'We're not going to do that."

The Broncos went hard to the boards early, leading to
second-chance opportunities and a 38-36 halftime lead. Gonzaga
trailed at the break for the first time in seven conference games.

Santa Clara's Kyle Bailey made a disputed jumper 3:04 before
halftime. Bailey released the ball just before the shot clock
expired, but Few argued. The officials then huddled in front of the
TV screen to review the play, which was ruled a basket because
there wasn't sufficient evidence otherwise.

Gonzaga managed only three shots in the first 4{ minutes and
fell behind 13-6.