No. 20 Gongaza, Perkins seeking consistency

Of all the moving parts on the Gonzaga basketball team, probably none is more important than point guard Josh Perkins.

When Perkins is careless with the basketball (six turnovers at San Diego State on Dec. 22), bad things (a 72-70 loss to the Aztecs) can happen.

When he’s on (16 points on 6-for-10 shooting Thursday), the result is usually different: an 81-48 win over Pacific in the Bulldogs’ West Coast Conference opener.

Perkins and the No. 20 Zags (11-3, 1-0 WCC) host Santa Clara on Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.

“I owed it to myself and my team to respond like that,” Perkins told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review after his 32-minute, no-turnovers performance. “I didn’t take care of the ball and that’s what they trust me to do as their point guard. I let them down against San Diego State. I had to respond in the first game of league.”

Against the Broncos, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be looking for the Thursday version of Perkins — the point guard “managed a great game,” Few said — and continued good defensive play from forward Rui Hachimura.

While the Japanese-born Hachimura arrived in Spokane with a highlight reel of his offensive exploits, his defense was, at best, suspect.

He has learned to switch on screens, as he did on Thursday when he had a block and three defensive rebounds.

“I’m getting more used to it, more comfortable,” Hachimura told the paper. “I understand the system and this offense and this defense. I feel like I’ve been playing good defense.”

The sophomore was also 6 of 8 from the field and 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.

Hachimura’s production coincided with Gonzaga starting forwards Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams combining to make just 1 of 9 shots and scoring two points in the first half against Pacific.

“(We are) just trying to find consistency out of (the big men),” Few said. “It’s maddening with those inside guys. You literally don’t know who is going to show up and play and who isn’t.

“(Hachimura’s) approach, of all our bigs, was the best. He was physical, tough, kind of in attack mode and picking the right spots when to attack.”

Santa Clara (4-9, 1-0) began conference play with a 72-65 win over Pepperdine that broke a four-game losing streak.

The Broncos have struggled in the first halves of their past two games, scoring just 47 points combined.

Santa Clara trailed 39-18 at halftime of a 75-63 loss at San Jose State on Dec. 21.

“We couldn’t have been any colder,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek told the (San Jose) Mercury News. “We missed our first 16 shots, and we had some wide-open ones during that stretch. We really put ourselves in a hole, but to our guys’ credit, they battled and made somewhat of a comeback.”

On Saturday, Sendek could have bigger concerns at the other end of the floor.

The Broncos’ defense, which allows opponents to make 50.1 percent of their shots (343th in the nation), has to contend with the nation’s No. 20 offense. The Zags are shooting 50.3 percent from the floor.