Sports

Broncos face tall task in clash with second-ranked Bulldogs

Santa Clara, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - With their sights set on a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the second-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs return to action on Thursday night as they visit the Santa Clara Broncos for a West Coast Conference tussle at the Leavey Center.

Santa Clara (11-12, 5-6 WCC) enters this contest a game under .500 both overall and in conference. The Broncos are hoping to put the brakes on a two- game slide, although doing so against the No. 2 team in the land is going to be extremely difficult. SCU, which is currently tied for fifth place in the WCC standings with San Diego, dropped decisions to both the Toreros (69-64) and BYU (78-57) in the last week.

Gonzaga continues to plow through the opposition, and its most recent victory came in a non-conference clash with visiting Memphis last Saturday, 82-64. The Bulldogs have won 15 in a row to elevate their record to 22-1 overall and 10-0 in conference, and they own the nation's longest homecourt winning streak at 38 games. They are 7-1 in true road tests this season, as their lone blemish came in a 66-63 overtime loss at Arizona back on Dec. 6.

These two teams met in Spokane on Jan. 10, with Gonzaga rolling to a 79-57 victory. Przemek Karnowski scored 18 points to lead five players in double figures for the Bulldogs, while Matt Hubbard tallied 15 for the Broncos, who shot just 35.2 percent from the field, despite draining 9-of-20 3-point attempts, and they were also beaten badly on the boards, 41-26.

As a result, Gonzaga owns a 52-32 lead in the all-time series, and it has now won the last nine meetings. The Broncos' last triumph over the Zags took place at the Leavey Center back on Jan. 20, 2011, ending what had been a 10-game home losing streak to Gonzaga.

Gonzaga used a couple of huge runs in the opening period to put some distance between itself and the visiting Tigers, who shot just 25.7 percent from the field before intermission on their way to a 35.1 percent effort for the game. Conversely, the Bulldogs nailed 60.9 percent of their shots in the first half and 55.3 percent for the game, knocking down 8-of-16 3-point attempts along the way, and outscoring their guests at the free-throw line, 22-8. Karnowski led Gonzaga with 17 points and Kyle Wiltjer tacked on 15 more. Domantas Sabonis recorded his second straight double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Kevin Pangos hit for 11 points and Gary Bell, Jr. finished with 10.

Gonzaga boasts five double-digit scorers on the season, led by Wiltjer and his 15.6 ppg. Pangos, who recently became the school's all-time leader in made 3- pointers, is next with 12.2 ppg, and he also serves as the team's primary playmaker by handing out 4.7 apg. Karnowski (11.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Byron Wesley (10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Sabonis (10.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) round out the offensive- minded quintet for a team that leads the nation in field goal percentage (.527) while logging significant margins in both scoring (+20.7) and rebounds (+8.3).

Santa Clara shot a dismal 34.4 percent from the field in its recent loss at BYU, missing the mark on 18 of its 22 3-point tries in the process. Jared Brownridge led the way with 16 points, and the only other double-digit scorer for the Broncos was Brandon Clark with 11 points. As for the Cougars, they buried 15-of-29 long-range launches, and they claimed a 19-11 edge in points from the foul line, as well a 45-37 advantage on the boards. About the only bright spot for the Broncos was the fact that they committed only eight turnovers.

On the season, Clark (16.0 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Brownridge (14.4 ppg, 2.7 apg) are the only double-digit scorers for a Santa Clara club that averages just 62.3 ppg, despite shooting 35.5 percent from beyond the arc and 72.8 percent at the charity stripe. The Broncos, who are netting only 59.6 ppg against WCC rivals, are giving up 66.2 ppg overall, and they routinely lose the rebounding battle, coming in with a -3.7 differential in that department. They are at a near standstill with regard to turnover margin, committing 11 miscues per outing.