The 10th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs hope to continue their stellar start to the season, as they hit the road for Saturday's West Coast Conference clash with the upstart Santa Clara Broncos.
After nearly two months, Gonzaga's record has only one blemish on it, as it dropped a home bout with nationally-ranked Illinois on Dec. 8, 85-74. Since then, the Bulldogs have gotten back to their winning ways with five straight victories, the last two coming on the road over Oklahoma State (69-68) and Pepperdine (78-62) in the WCC opener.
Considering its lackluster 8-22 record during the 2011-2012 campaign, Santa Clara's fast start to this season has been one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country. After going winless in the WCC a year ago, the Broncos claimed a 74-69 decision against San Francisco in the league opener on Wednesday night. The victory was the Broncos' seventh in the last eight games.
Gonzaga has dominated Santa Clara over the past decade or so, posting wins in 25 of the last 27 matchups. As a result, the Bulldogs lead the all-time series, 47-30.
Although Gonzaga found itself in a eight-point hole early in the first half against Pepperdine, it was able to right the ship after the break to capture the 16-point victory. The team's .434 field goal percentage was uncharacteristically low, but it made up for that by going 25-of-29 at the free throw line (.862). Elias Harris paced the squad in both scoring (18) and rebounding (six), while Kelly Olynyk added 16 points in the triumph. On the season, not only does Gonzaga lead the WCC in scoring at 80.7 ppg, but its .513 field goal percentage ranks behind only Michigan and NC State nationally. Pair that with an outstanding field goal percentage defense (.400), and the team owns one of the top scoring margins in the country (plus-18.4). Olynyk (15.8 ppg) and Harris (15.1 ppg) share the team's primary scoring responsibilities, and both are strong on the glass as well with at least 6.3 rpg apiece. Kevin Pangos (12.1 ppg) and Gary Bell, Jr. (10.0 ppg) are both threats from long range, the two having combined for 56 3-pointers.
Santa Clara led by as many as 19 points in the second half versus San Francisco, but the Dons managed to inch their way back to make it a one- possession contest in the final minute. Fortunately for the Broncos, they were able to hold on for that elusive conference win. The team shot just 39.1 percent from the floor, but drained 10 3-pointers and won the both the rebounding (42-33) and turnover (12-7) battles. Kevin Foster struggled from the field (5-of-17), but all of his makes came from beyond the arc as he finished with a game-high 21 points. Marc Trasolini tallied a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, Raymond Cowels III added 13 points and seven boards, and Evan Roquemore came off the bench to record 12 points and eight assists. Santa Clara is the WCC's third-highest scoring team this season at 78.4 ppg, thanks in part to 8.5 treys per contest. Foster, the conference's leader in 3-point field goals (47), ranks fourth in scoring with 19.1 ppg, and Trasolini is a fantastic inside complement with 15.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg. Roquemore has been solid at well with 13.9 ppg and 6.3 apg.