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Gonzaga vs Santa Clara Preview: A Fresh Face

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Zags and Broncos finally get to play

Kevin Jairaj

You know what they say: Fourth time is the charm. Gonzaga and Santa Clara were originally scheduled to play twice this season. The first match-up got postponed from January 7th to February 6th. After the Broncos went on pause for a second time, that date got canceled. They were ready to play in the Bay Area on February 11th, but the Monday prior to the game, Santa Clara determined they weren’t ready to return yet.

God willing, the time is finally here. After a re-worked final week of the WCC schedule, the Zags and Broncos will get to face off for the first time this season. With a win, Gonzaga will tie a program record home winning streak of 50 games. The team that broke the original streak in 2007? That would be Santa Clara. Unfortunately for the 2021 Broncos, John Bryant ain’t walking through that door.

Santa Clara enters this game 10-6 on the season and 4-4 in WCC play. They returned to play with a three-game slate last week. After dropping games to LMU and San Diego, they bounced back with an impressive win over Pepperdine. In their win over the Waves, they scored 80+ points against a D1 opponent for the first time this season.

They’re going to need another offensive explosion to keep up with Gonzaga. It starts with Josip Vrankic. The 6’9 senior leads the Broncos with 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds and is coming off back-to-back 25 point games. Alongside him are other big, bruising forwards in Willy Caruso, DJ Mitchell, and Jaden Bediako. Keshawn Justice is a slashing wing who averages double figures, but has missed the last three games. They have plenty of big bodies to fight the interior of Gonzaga. Santa Clara has a top 80 defense nationally, and holds teams to just 44.6 percent from inside the arc, 22nd best in the country.

The problem with Santa Clara is their guard line. With Trey Wertz (Notre Dame), Tahj Eaddy (USC), and David Thompson (Central Washington) all transferring in the offseason, they were left without a true point guard. They brought in Christian Carlyle from Florida Gulf Coast, but he is much more of an off-guard. The point guard duties have fallen upon sophomore Jalen Williams, who struggled with efficiency to start the year, but has broken out recently. He’s averaging 15.4 points over his last six games, shooting 45 percent from deep.

They shoot just 28 percent from beyond the arc, and to stand any chance on Thursday, that will have to change. Gonzaga has beaten Santa Clara by 43+ points in four of their last six meetings. Last season at home, the Zags won 104-54 with five players in double figures.

Santa Clara at Gonzaga

Time: Thursday, 4 pm pacific

TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Dan Dickau)

KenPom: 93-62 Gonzaga