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Zags Host Santa Clara as Home Stand Continues

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Santa Clara Broncos
@ Gonzaga Bulldogs

Thursday, Jan 15, 2009, 6:00 PM PST
Martin Centre/McCarthy Center

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Can you believe that it has been over a month since the Gonzaga Bulldogs have played a home game in front of the students. The last time the Zags hosted a game with school in session, the team was 8-1 and A.J. Price was days away from ripping out the hearts of Gonzaga fans. While times have certainly been hard since Texas Southern visited Spokane on 12/18, recent results seem to indicate that this team has started to regain some of their pre-UConn swagger.

With WCC play offically under way, GU has an excellent opportunity to work out all the kinks, and build a huge stream of confidence as we all look forward to the January 29th showdown with St. Mary's. However, before we can turn our attention to that much anticiapted match up, this team needs to take care of business against the rest of the WCC. After defeating Portland in the opener, it's time for Gonzaga to turn its attention to the inconsistent but talented Santa Clara Broncos.

If you look back at my WCC predictions, I thought that Santa Clara would end up 3rd in the conference. Unfortunately, it seems that the Broncos frustrating habit of losing close games has carried over from non-conference play into the WCC. Here is one of the most stunning statistics I have ever seen: Of the Broncos 11 losses, 9 have come by six points or less. It's incredible how close this team is to having a terrific record and competing for a post-season spot.

As I mentioned before, Santa Clara's habit of losing close games reared its ugly head in the opening weekend of WCC play. In their opener, the Broncos led St. Mary's for 39 minutes, but lost on a Patty Mills buzzer-beating three pointer. The Broncos followed up the heart-breaking 63-62 loss to the Gaels with a 55-50 loss to San Diego. In this game, Santa Clara had the lead and the ball with 40 seconds remaining, but somehow managed to find another way to lose a game they were in control of. Part of the reason I am so nervous for this game is the fact that at some point, Santa Clara is bound to win one of these close games.

Leading the way for Santa Clara is John Bryant. While some Gonzaga fans may remember John Bryant as a prodding big man who had no athleticism, I can assure you that those days are long gone. Bryant has morphed himself into one of the top centers in the country, while averaging 17.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Bryant will serve as perhaps the ultimate challenge for Josh Heytvelt this season. Bryant will test Josh on both ends of the court, and if Josh is not willing to play tough and dominate the glass, Bryant will have his way with the Zags.

The reason for the Broncos struggles this season is the supporting cast around John Bryant. The player that worries me the most is sharp-shooting freshman James Rahon. Perimeter defense has long been a struggle for the Gonzaga program, and Rahon is the type of player that can get hot from distance. If the Zags don't keep an eye on Rahon, he is capable of keeping Santa Clara in the game. Although he doesn't have eye-opening numbers, Decensae White is a big-time prospect for Santa Clara. White began his career at Texas Tech and the game against Gonzaga will mark his 10th appearance in a Bronco uniform. White is a great athlete, and he is the type of player that can cause fits around the rim against any opponent.

This game will be a considerable test for the Zags. Despite their struggles throughout the season, there is no denying the talent and potential that Santa Clara posseses. If John Bryant can put together another 20-20 performance, the Zags could be in a world of trouble. However, SCU has no answer for the length and athleticism of Austin Daye, and no PG to challenge Jeremy Pargo. Behind a vintage performance from Pargo, I expect Gonzaga to emerge with a 74-59 victory.