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Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara game preview: Building some conference momentum

The Zags look to continue the second half of Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Pacific at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs finish their opening conference homestand with a game against the Santa Clara Broncos on Saturday afternoon.

Gonzaga is coming off an easy 81-48 win over Pacific on Thursday. Rui Hachimura led all scorers with 19 points, and Josh Perkins chipped in 16 points as the Zags easily stormed past the Tigers in the second half.

Santa Clara toppled Pepperdine on Thursday night, 72-65. Matt Hauser led the Broncos with 19 points, Henry Caruso chipped in 16, and KJ Feagin rounded it out with another 15 points.

Meet the opponent

Santa Clara Broncos, 4-9, KenPom #261

There is one major issue with Santa Clara this season: defense. The Broncos are rather wretched it at stopping opponents from getting good shots. Teams have an eFG% of 58.3 against Santa Clara, ranked No. 334 in the nation. A lot of that comes from perimeter defending, of which Santa Clara has next to zero. They are a good defensive rebounding team, and they are pretty decent at forcing turnovers, but when teams shoot as good as that—it is hard to win.

The Broncos are led by the high scoring affair of their backcourt. Feagin averages 18.7 per game, Caruso adds 13.6, and Hauser rounds is out with 10.8 points per game. Canadian forward Josip Vrankick chips in 11 points per game. Unfortunately, for Santa Clara, the production dies immediately after that, and that is where this team struggles. If any one of those four players is operating at less than maximum capacity, this team has a hard time finding points.

What to watch out for

The manbun.

I’m hardly one to give style points, so to each their own. However, Josh Perkins and his manbun had his best game of the season. Perkins finished with 16 points, hitting 4-of-8 from long range, dishing out five dimes, and most importantly—zero turnovers. That is the exact game we needed to see from Perkins as he rebounded from his worst game of the season in the loss over San Diego State. Hopefully, Perkins can continue to build on this production.

Corey Kispert looks to be on the mend.

Kispert finished the game with 19 minutes, the most he has played since injuring his ankle on Nov. 29. Norvell still retained the starting spot, and for now, that is perfectly acceptable. But it is nice having the young dude back. Kispert fills a lot of small holes on the offense, demonstrated by his three offensive rebounds against Pacific. He was crashing the glass, and he wasn’t afraid to try the long shot, leading the team with eight three-point attempts.

Jesse Wade came in earlier than garbage time.

This is a huge deal. Jesse Wade came into the game at the 10 minute mark in the first half, with the Zags leading 20-11, so Perkins could get a few minutes of rest. That is approximately 25 minutes earlier than Few has generally put him in, and it is important. Wade finished the game with zero points on three attempts, and he was only in for eight minutes. But just seeing him in so early was a big deal. Hopefully, it is something the coaching staff continues.