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Game Preview: Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara

The Bay Area road trip always feels tough, now GU faces “the better” of its two opponents

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Francisco D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

After last night’s heart-stopping game, you’d hope things would get easier for Saturday’s contest at Santa Clara’s Leavey Center. Nope, Santa Clara is probably the better team having beaten San Francisco by 12 just over a week ago. Here’s hoping Gonzaga was having one of those “5 bad games” last night and return to form against the Broncos.

Meet the opponent

Santa Clara Broncos, 14-4, KenPom #90

One could be excused if they thought Santa Clara would be in rebuilding mode this season, after losing lottery pick Jalen Williams, five-year starter Josip Vrankic and fifth-year transfer P. J. Pipes. While Herb Sendek is a very good coach who’s built a solid program, the lion’s share of the credit for the Broncos’ continued success goes to a curly headed, 19-year-old, Illinois transfer named Brandin Podziemski.

Podziemski was a far-end of the bench player for the Illini last season, averaging a little over four-minutes a game in 16 contests. This season he leads Santa Clare in scoring (18.8 ppg), rebounds (8.6), assists (3.4), steals (2.2) and minutes played (35.6). A big guard (6’ 5” 205 lbs) who can score at all three levels, he makes up for average athleticism with great instincts and court awareness. His backcourt mate is sophomore guard Calos Stewart who’s averaging 14.8 ppg and shooting 44% from deep. Wing Keshawn Justice, preseason All-WCC selection, is a four-year starter averaging 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

Up front, the Broncos return Missouri transfer forward Parker Braun and center Jaden Bediako both 6’ 10” seniors and Bediako, at 240 lbs, is a rock in the post. If the Bediako name sounds familiar, his brother Charles is the Alabama center.

The Broncos are solid on both ends of the floor 80th in KenPom on offense and 98th on defense.

What to watch out for

Three-point defense and rebounding

Gonzaga sits at a decidedly mediocre 161st in KemPom on three-point defense and the Dongs took full advantage last night shooting 44% from deep. While the Bronco guards aren’t as athletic and quick as Shabazz and Roberts, Santa Clara uses a lot of ball screens to get their shooters open. I would expect today’s film session and walk-through to emphasize last night’s three-point defense, or lack thereof.

As anyone who watched last night’s game knows, GU just got killed on the boards 45 to 26 with 13 of USF’s rebounds being offensive, resulting in 22 points. Gonzaga really looked out of sorts last night and were beaten to pretty much every loose ball. Since they’ve out-rebounded their opponents 574 to 465 for the year, last nights totals may be chalked up as an anomaly. Getting beat to the ball shouldn’t be.

Drew Timme rebounds

Drew’s 3 for 16 was the worst shooting night of his career, 29% lower than his next worse outing this season. Still, he remained a warrior fighting for 37 minutes and going 5 for 6 from the the line. I give a lot of credit for Drew’s struggles to Volodymyr Markovetskyy and Saba Gigiberia. The big Eastern European’s defense reminded me of Przemek Karnowski’s, arms up, remain vertical and take up enough space to make the shooter’s angle of attack less than ideal.

I really can’t imagine Drew having back-to-back poor games and the Broncos’ bigs don’t have the size, girth nor depth of those from USF.

Rasir Bolton’s continued resurgence

After weeks of social media calling for his benching, Rasir Bolton rewarded Mark Few’s continued confidence with his finest game of the season. 8 for 12 from the field and 5 of 7 from deep with every shot feeling like and most probably was, the difference between a win and a loss.

His putback of the Timme miss at the end of the game was decidedly Calvary-esque, making one overly vocal, nearly-psychotic Dons fan sitting under the basket come unglued and curse in his face. For a Zag fan, it was a weird combination of elation and revulsion.

Over the course of the past three games, Bolton performance has gradually improved culminating in tonight’s magnum opus. Probably more importantly, he rejoined Strawther, Watson and Smith as players who individually or in combination can cover a Timme poor performance to beat a good team.