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Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara game preview: WCC play begins

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The Zags open the second half of the season.

CSU Bakersfield v Gonzaga Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

The Gonzaga Bulldogs open up the second half of the season with a home contest against the Santa Clara Broncos on Saturday.

Gonzaga has looked every bit a top-team the past two weeks, delivering some excessive thwompings to its opponents. Unfortunately, those opponents were the likes of CSU-Bakersfield, North Alabama, Denver, and UT-Arlington, not exactly teams striking fear in the hearts of the Selection Sunday Committee.

Santa Clara, meanwhile, opened WCC play yesterday with a 68-56 win at home over San Diego. Tahj Eaddy dropped 30 points in the game to lead all scorers, and the Broncos forced 20 turnovers.

Meet the opponent

Santa Clara Broncos, 9-6, KenPom #195

The Broncos are led by sophomore point guard Thaj Eaddy, who scores 15.8 points per game, and sophomore winger Josip Vrankic, who chips in 13.8 points per game. Vrankic especially is a tough defensive assignment. At 6’8, he can step out and hit the three a bit, where he shoots 32 percent, but his main bread and butter is around the rim, where he takes 62 percent of his shots.

Eaddy has stepped in admirably for senior guard KJ Feagin, who broke his thumb two games into the season and hasn’t played since. Eaddy is a pure shooter, hitting 41 percent of his threes and relying primarily on his jump shot for a majority of his points. The three point shot will be the big thing to watch this game. The Broncos hit 37.8 percent as a team from long range, good for No. 44 in the nation.

What to watch out for

The Zags should pressure freshman guard Trey Wertz.

Wertz might be the next Jared Brownridge for Santa Clara. He dropped 28 points against USC in yet another WCC win over a Pac 12 team. He also has been forced into more minutes than he normally would garner, thanks to the Feagin injury. As expected, it has been a roller coaster or the young guard, who averages 3.9 turnovers per game. Wertz gets about half of his minutes at point, and Gonzaga can really open this game up by rattling the freshman guard with some intense defensive pressure.

Pound the ball down low.

Santa Clara defends against the three rather well. Their defense ranks No. 13 in the nation for lowest 3PA/FGA, and opponents hit just 30.3 percent from long range, a top 50 mark. The Zags have one of the best frontcourts in the nation, which might be getting better with a Killian Tillie return. Gonzaga doesn’t need to abandon the three point shot of course (Zach Norvell will see to that) but if the shots aren’t falling, going inside will be the meal ticket for this game.

Say hello to Geno Crandall.

Crandall probably could’ve played on Monday, but the coaching staff decided to play it straight. By all accounts, he should take the court on Saturday, and Tillie shouldn’t be too far behind. The Zags might finally be one step closer to operating at full strength.