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Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara game preview: Bulldogs hit the road for the weekend

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Gonzaga is coming off one of its best weekends of the season and looks to continue the good times as the No. 2 team in the nation.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The semi-newly minted No. 2 team in the nation continues its undefeated swing through the WCC with a game on the road against the Santa Clara Broncos on Thursday.

A loss by Virginia opened the door for the Gonzaga Bulldogs to rise in the rankings, and the Zags, as they often do this year, took full advantage. Gonzaga kicked Portland to the side like a bad habit and proceeded to clean up the mess with the remnants of the Memphis Tigers.

Against the Tigers, five different Gonzaga players scored in double figures in a balanced attack that showcases why this team is so hard to defend against.

Things haven't been so good as of late for the Broncos. Santa Clara turned things around since their last loss to Gonzaga, rattling off four-consecutive wins -- but things were pretty close. Three of the wins were by single digits and two of those wins by one possession. Santa Clara most recently lost to both San Diego and BYU and is looking to get back to .500 play in the conference.

Meet the opponent

Santa Clara Broncos, 11-12, KenPom #197

Last time around against Gonzaga, there wasn't a whole lot that went right for Santa Clara. Matt Hubbard led the team with 15 points and Jared Brownridge chipped in 14. Other than those two, there wasn't a whole lot of offense to be found. The Broncos shot 35 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 35-22.

Unfortunately, for the Broncos, poor shooting is the common occurrence this season. The Broncos are shooting 41 percent from the floor, which ranks just No. 257 in the nation. They don't get to the foul line very much and they are too short to really be a threat on the rebounding front.

Where the Broncos are dangerous is from the three-point arc. They don't necessarily shoot threes at a great percentage, but the Broncos believe in a quantity over quality mindset. 34 percent of their points come from beyond the arc, good for No. 45 in the nation. Brandon Clark, Jared Brownridge, Denzel Johnson and Matt Hubbard have no issue hucking up an open shot -- or a contested three, for that matter. Santa Clara averages a shade over 19 three point attempts per game.

The four factors

All stats courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.

Gonzaga Santa Clara
eFG% 58.6 (3) 47.3 (242)
TO% 16.3 (29) 17.9 (82)
OR% 35.6 (40) 29.0 (246)
FTR 36.8 (190) 34.4 (244)
Win index 94 6

What to watch out for

Domantas Sabonis' continuing hot streak.

Early on, Sabonis did a good job of showcasing enough flash to get us all excited and then counteract it with dumb fouls or turnovers to remind us he is still a freshman. As of late, Sabonis has shed that freshman label and has been a tour de force coming off the bench. He has two consecutive double-doubles and shouldn't have much of a problem against the Broncos.

Keep track of that perimeter defense.

The fact of the matter is that any time Gonzaga goes into a road arena in the WCC, the games become much harder. Santa Clara is going to test the Gonzaga defense by just taking shots, sometimes shots the players theoretically have no business taking. But if Santa Clara is going to win, they'll need to drain a lot of threes. The team is more than capable of doing so. Against LMU, Santa Clara hit 12 threes. Against San Francisco, they hit 10. It is the only legitimate key for the Broncos to win the game. If Gonzaga shuts down the three, it is an easy win.

Keep Gary Bell Jr. going.

Kevin Pangos backcourt partner in crime has had a pretty quiet senior campaign. Much of that came from the fact that he hasn't needed to score as much, but the other issue has been his shot. It is quite a bit of bad luck for Bell. Shots that normally fall just aren't following, to the tune of an effective field goal percentage of 54.5, below his career average of 57.1.

The senior guard has turned things about, almost, as of late. He scored 17 against LMU and 13 against Pacific. But against Portland, he struggled to the tune of two points off of 1-of-6 shooting. Bell draws a hard task because he is the team's best defender, so he can't be expected to be able to give 110 percent on offense as well. Bell is also one of the big x-factors for Gonzaga, and his ability to quietly pour in 15 points or so will be relished as the season progresses. If Bell's shot gets back to where it normally is, Gonzaga's offense is that much harder to stop.

Game info

Time: 8 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN2

Online: WatchESPN

Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)