It's truly hard to believe that this season is so close to its conclusion. After all the highs and lows that this Gonzaga team has faced throughout the season, the Zags have the tremendous opportunity to close out WCC play with an undefeated record. Like many fans, I have found parts ot this season disappointing and difficult to watch, but its important to realize that this team has won 14 of 15, and is slowly but surely playing its way into a 4/5 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Although the competition was weak last weekend, it seems that the Zags have started to hit their stride on the offensive end. However, the competition will be at a much higher level tonight when Gonzaga enters the Leavey Center to take on Santa Clara.
Santa Clara has been the most difficult and frustrating team to follow in the WCC this season. On a pure talent basis, Santa Clara clearly is underachieving at 6-6 in conference. However, close losses early in the season seem to have stripped this team of any form of confidence and consistency. It seems that over the past month the Broncos have started to find their stride, as they have won 6 out of 8 in the WCC, but the recent losses to Pepperdine and USF are alarming and discouraging.
For Santa Clara, it starts and ends with the tremendous John Bryant. I can't remember any player transforming their body and game more then he has in his 4 years at Santa Clara. Bryant has lost over 100 pounds since he arrived on campus, and is currently the best big man on the west coast. It's even in the realm of possibility to argue that Bryan should be an All-American, as he currently leads the nation in total rebounds. For the season, Bryant is averaging 18.0 points and bringing down 13.7 rebounds. While Bryant did score 12 points and grab 11 rebounds in the match up earlier this season, he was clearly taken out of his element by the length and athleticism of Josh Heytvelt. If Josh can have the same impact tonight, Santa Clara has no chance tonight.
The problem with the Broncos is the inconsistency from the supporting cast. The best secondary option for Santa Clara is freshman guard Kevin Foster. Foster is one of many terrific freshman guards who have had a huge impact in the WCC. He is currently averaging 14.4 points and 2.4 assists. Foster is a solid shooter from beyond the arc, hitting 38% of his shots, and has a solid mid-range game. The other scoring option for Santa Clara is freshman guard James Rahon. Rahon is strictly a distance shooter, and can put this team on his back with his 41.6% shooting from distance. He is the type of player that has given Gonzaga troubles for as long as I can remember, and if he gets hot, he could keep Santa Clara in the game.
If the Zags can carry over their terrific play from last weekend, then there is no reason that this should be a close game. In Josh Heytvelt, the Zags have the athletic and strong big man that can give John Bryant fits. As long as Gonzaga doesn't allow any members of the supporting cast to heat up, this game could be a repeat of the one in Spokane. Behind another solid performance from the senior class, Gonzaga will emerge with the 87-59 victory.