The Gonzaga Bulldogs have three games to win to become the WCC Tournament champions for the second year in a row. First, they will have to get through an opponent that almost sent the Bulldogs home with a loss last time around.
The No. 9 Santa Clara Broncos absolutely rolled over Pacific in the first round on Thursday to get another crack at Gonzaga and revenge from a loss at the end of January. Santa Clara was struggling mightily, having lost four in a row, and looked to be on the verge of defeating Gonzaga. But then, Sam Dower did this.
Gonzaga came away with a 54-52 win and Santa Clara would continue losing for seven games straight. The past means nothing in the WCC Tournament, however. Just like Gonzaga is, Santa Clara is three games away from an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, and the Broncos might have the firepower to pull it off.
Santa Clara is led by WCC Newcomer of the Year Jared Brownridge. The freshman guard is averaging 17 points per game off of 45 percent shooting. He has been electric in his past two games, dropping a season-high 38 points on Pepperdine and scoring 20 points against Pacific on Wednesday. Brownridge hasn't done well against the Zags this year, and if any team is going to make any noise in the WCC, it has to go through Spokane. Brownridge has scored a total of 18 points in 68 minutes against the Bulldogs, his lowest total against any WCC opponent this year.
The Bulldogs offense closed out with two solid wins to right the ship and head into Las Vegas facing the right direction. There is a bit more on the line for the Bulldogs on Saturday on the personal level with Mark Few chasing his 400th win. Few is 399-99 and is 31-4 against Santa Clara over his career. The Bulldogs will have to play much better than last time around to secure that 400th win for Few.
In the 54-52 win, Gonzaga posted an offensive rating of 88.49, its lowest mark of the entire season. The Bulldogs shot 34.8 percent from the floor and were only helped by the fact that Santa Clara shot just as poorly in the process. Another shooting performance like that and it'll be a long weekend of depressingly playing the slot machines for the Bulldogs. There are plenty of reasons to think this won't be the case for Gonzaga.
In the Bulldogs most recent game against Pacific, Kevin Pangos finally emerged from his winter slumber to take over and score 18 points. It was an incredibly important 18 points because both Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower saw minimal time on the floor because of foul trouble. In the regular season finale against Saint Mary's, the Bulldog's defense absolutely ran the Gaels out of their own gym. Dower led the team with 15 points but it was one of the heartening, full team effort wins that the Bulldogs had lacked in conference play. Its been an up and down ride this year, but the past two games have shown a Gonzaga squad that is finally playing with its head on straight.
A win for Gonzaga is of the utmost importance. The Bulldogs are firmly on the bubble, hanging out on the good side of it, but a loss to Santa Clara will look horrible for the selection committee. Considering Gonzaga is 4-3 over its past seven games, the Bulldogs will need a bit of momentum going into March Madness if they even have dreams of winning a game.
Game time: 6 p.m., PT
Radio: Spokane - 1510 KGA AM, Seattle - 880 KIXI AM