Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The West Coast Conference slate tips off on Saturday night, as the 24th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs play host to the Santa Clara Broncos at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
At 7-6, Santa Clara has endured an up-and-down campaign, but it has been surging in recent weeks with wins in four of its last five games. The Broncos closed out their non-conference slate on Monday night with a 66-65 victory over South Florida in the Las Vegas Classic to move above .500 for the first time since mid-November.
Gonzaga took a tumble in the latest AP poll due to its 72-62 loss at Kansas State last Saturday, which halted a six-game win streak. Despite the setback, the Bulldogs are still an impressive 10-2 this season, including an unblemished 6-0 on their home floor.
The Bulldogs lead the all-time series with Santa Clara, 49-30. The Broncos have won only twice versus Gonzaga in the past 29 matchups, dating back to 2001.
Trailing by eight points with under four minutes to play in their most recent game, the Broncos finished with an 11-2 run, punctuated by a pair of Jared Brownridge free throws with 11 seconds left to lift them to a 66-65 win over USF. They shot just 38.2 percent from the floor on the evening, but they made up for it by committing just eight turnovers and by piecing together a strong 17-of-20 showing at the foul line. Brandon Clark led the way with 12 points. Brownridge and Jalen Richard each poured in 10 points, while Jerry Brown corralled 11 rebounds.
On the season, Santa Clara sports a +5.2 scoring margin despite getting outshot by its opponents from the field, 45.9 percent to 43.4 percent. It earns its biggest advantage in the takeaway battle, forcing 3.3 more turnovers than it commits. Clark (15.8 ppg) and Brownridge (14.7 ppg) act as the team's go-to scoring options. The duo has combined to drain 61 3-pointers, with Brownridge connecting on his long-range attempts at a 44.6 percent rate. Evan Roquemore (11.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) and Brown (9.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are also integral parts of the starting lineup.
Although Gonzaga was able to take a brief lead with nine minutes left in its latest game following a Kevin Pangos layup, it could not enjoy it for long as Kansas State ripped off a quick 7-0 run to distance itself. The Zags shot an impressive 48 percent from the field, but ultimately fell short by making just 7-of-15 from the foul line and by losing the turnover battle, 12-4. Pangos was impressive in defeat with 14 points and six assists. Drew Barham netted 13 points off the bench, while Przemek Karnowski and David Stockton put up 10 points apiece.
Despite putting together arguably their worst offensive performance of the season, the Bulldogs are still one of the nation's best in terms of scoring efficiency, netting 85.3 points per game (15th in the country) on 52.2 percent shooting from the field (third) and 43.5 percent from 3-point range (fifth). They've also been stellar at the defensive end, holding opponents to just 40.8 percent field goal shooting for 70.8 points per game. Pangos scores a team- best 18.3 points per game, doing a large chuck of his damage from beyond the arc (39-of-83), and he also boasts an outstanding 3.53 assist-to-turnover ratio. Gary Bell, Jr. (13.5 ppg) is a marksman from long range as well (30- of-61), while Sam Dower (13.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Karnowski (9.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg) man the paint.