Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The sixth-ranked team in the nation seeks a ninth straight win on Saturday, as the Gonzaga Bulldogs host the Santa Clara Broncos in West Coast Conference action.
The Bulldogs kicked off the 2014-15 campaign with seven consecutive wins before losing to third-ranked Arizona on the road in Tucson the first week of December by a score of 66-63 in overtime. Since then Gonzaga has been untouchable, beginning the WCC campaign with a convincing 87-80 win at BYU, followed by two more conference road victories versus San Diego and Portland.
Two nights ago, the Bulldogs made quick work of San Francisco in the home conference opener, 88-57.
While Gonzaga is tied with Saint Mary's-CA for the top spot in the league standings at 4-0, the Broncos are in the bottom half of the WCC with two wins in five opportunities. Also in action on Thursday night, Santa Clara was dealt a 78-61 defeat by Portland in Oregon, marking the second loss in the last three outings for the Broncos.
Gonzaga leads the Broncos by a count of 52-30 in the all-time series dating back more than a half century. Aside from an 85-71 triumph in 2011, Santa Clara has come out on the short end of every meeting since 2008. In fact, the Bulldogs have won eight straight and 30 of the last 32 battles between the programs.
The Broncos shot an impressive 54.2 percent from the field in the second half of their meeting against Portland a few nights back, but that was only after converting a mere 34.6 percent in the opening 20 minutes. Considering the Pilots connected on 53.2 percent from the floor overall, there was little chance the visitors would come out ahead. Scoring in double figures for Santa Clara were Jalen Richard and Denzel Johnson with 13 points apiece, followed by Nate Kratch and Jared Brownridge who both tallied 10 points in the losing cause.
Although he failed to score in double figures the last time out, Brandon Clark is still the top scorer overall for the Broncos with 15.3 ppg and is also first with 63 assists. However, the team does suffer sometimes when he has the ball in his hands due to his field goal shooting which falls below 35 percent accuracy. Brownridge checks in with another 13.8 ppg, thanks to an impressive 45.0 percent behind the 3-point line, which means he and Clark combine for almost half the program's 61.5 ppg these days.
The Bulldogs trailed by four points about six minutes into the meeting with San Francisco on Thursday, but there was little reason to worry as the hosts shot 52.5 percent from the field and beat the Dons on the glass by a 39-26 margin, en route to the 31-point victory. Kevin Pangos tallied 17 points and five assists, Przemek Karnowski 16 points, Kyle Wiltjer 15 and reserve Silas Melson 10 points in just 16 minutes of action as he converted 3-of-4 shots behind the 3-point line.
Once again Gonzaga is being built on team play, balanced scoring and solid defense, which is why the team is 8-0 at home in 2014-15. Wiltjer accounts for a team-best 16.4 ppg based on 42.6 percent shooting from the floor, followed by Pangos (12.4 ppg), Byron Wesley (11.6 ppg) and Karnowski (10.9 ppg), the latter producing 6.2 rpg to pace the program in that department and help push the Bulldogs to a rebounding advantage just a shade under 10 per outing as they outscore the competition by a 21.7 ppg margin.