Preview: Santa Clara at Gonzaga
There was a time that being nationally ranked and winning 10 of its first 12 games would be an accomplishment for Gonzaga. But Mark Few has raised the expectations with the No. 21 Bulldogs, so the 10-2 record they take into Saturday's West Coast Conference opener with visiting Santa Clara is a bit of a letdown, especially with a loss in their last game before the Christmas holiday. The Bulldogs, though, are still the favorites to win the league, so Few will certainly have his team ready to get off on the right foot.
The Broncos are coming off a one-point victory over South Florida that put them over the .500 mark heading into the conference campaign. Unfortunately for Santa Clara, every team in the league had an above-.500 record in non-conference play, and they get to start with the favorite Bulldogs. The Broncos will need to turn up their defensive intensity against a Gonzaga team that averages 85.3 points, good for 16th in the nation.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT SANTA CLARA (7-6): The Broncos have been playing well, finishing third in the eight-team Las Vegas Classic, but the team is hoping to get better soon with the return to action of 7-0 center Robert Garrett. Garrett has been sidelined with an ankle injury and its unsure when he'll return, but his presence would help in the paint for a team that is averaging only 34.2 rebounds. Although Garrett has been averaging just 2.7 boards, he's been doing that in eight minutes per game, so the hope is that with more playing time, Garrett could make more of an impact.
ABOUT GONZAGA (10-2): Despite nothing but winning records in the conference, the Bulldogs are the most respected - and maybe the only respected - team. Gonzaga coach Mark Few is trying to keep his team focused on each opponent, even if the records can be a little misleading. "I think there's been varying schedules everybody's played," Few told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "So it's kind of hard to digest some of the records."
1. The Broncos are shooting a lower percentage from 3-point range than their opponents, but average nearly twice as many 3s as the opposition.
2. Bulldogs C Sam Dower - the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer - hurt his back in the loss to Kansas State and his status for this game is uncertain.
3. Gonzaga leads the series 49-30.
PREDICTION: Gonzaga 88, Santa Clara 74