If you had told any Gonzaga fan at this time last week that the Zags would have erased their two-game deficit in the WCC standings within a week, the response would have been excessive laughter. Based on how Gonzaga had played in its road loss at St. Mary's, combined with the streak the Gaels were on, it seemed much more likely St. Mary's would leave Spokane with a three-game advantage. However, Gonzaga delivered its two best performances of the season in wins over the Gaels and LMU, while St. Mary's delivered one of its worst performances of the season in a double-digit home loss to the Lions.
The result of all the madness of the past week is that the Zags once again controls their destiny in the hunt for a 12th straight WCC title. With one home game and three road games left in the WCC season, Gonzaga doesn't have an easy path to No. 12. The Bay Area road trip has proven to be incredibly difficult for GU, even when both Santa Clara and USF have been down. While many of you probably have Saturday's game at USF circled as the toughest remaining road game this season, something tells me that a young and desperately motivated Santa Clara team is going to present a big challenge Thursday night.There is no doubt that the suspension of Kevin Foster has contributed heavily to the current 13-game losing streak. Foster may well be the best pure-scorer in the WCC and taking away his ability to generate offense has been crippling for Santa Clara. However, during this losing stretch, the Broncos have actually been acceptable offensively. Santa Clara has scored over 70 points in two of the games and has yet to score less than 60 since Foster was suspended. The big drop off has been defensively, as the Broncos haven't held an opponent below 70 points and have allowed four opponents to score over 80 points.
In the absence of Foster, Evan Roquemore has asserted himself as one of the top options for the Broncos. Roquemore is averaging 13.8 ppg and a team-high 5.3 apg. He isn't at his best when he is the focal point of the offense, which probably explains why his shooting percentages have dipped during his sophomore season. Niyi Harrison has rebounded following a disappointing sophomore season and provides a consistent scoring presence for the Broncos. He is a versatile guy who can score in the paint and he also is an excellent rebounder for a guy his size. The one player that Gonzaga fans should keep an eye on is Yannick Atanga. Atanga received some interest from Gonzaga during the recruiting process and he has a real knack for the ball. Atanga is still incredibly raw, but is averaging 5.1 rpg despite averaging only 14.4 minutes.
This game will be interesting if Santa Clara gets support from its crowd and student-section. Seemingly every season, Gonzaga struggles to deal with the raucous environment at the Leavey Center, which gives the Broncos confidence and keeps the game close early on. If the Zags can come out and roll early like they did against LMU, this game could be ugly. However, if Gonzaga comes out sluggish and allows this young team to build some momentum, it could turn out to be a stressful night.
With the opportunity to extend the streak to 12 much more realistic than seven days ago, what do you guys expect to see from the Zags tonight? Will it be a complacent performance, or can this team carry over the aggressiveness and confidence that was on display in Spokane last week?