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Game Preview: Santa Clara at Gonzaga

Want to start a new home winning streak, beat the Broncos

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pacific Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a big week for the Gonzaga men. Before they travel to Moraga the take on the unranked (okay 18th ranked) Gaels, the wounded and dangerous Santa Clara Broncos come to the Kennel for the first home game since the LMU loss. I kinda hate the term “trap game”, but…………

Meet the opponent

Santa Clara Broncos, 16-7 WCC 4-4, KenPom #93

The Broncos had a rough time last week. They took a short road trip to Moraga on Thursday, where Saint Mary’s beat them 77-58. They returned home on Saturday, losing to the Pacific Tigers 95-89 with the Tigers leading the entire second half.

Our favorite curly-headed former Illini Brandin Podziemski, came back from only scoring 7 against the Gaels to drop 38 with 9 rebounds in the Tigers loss. Podziemski still leads the Broncos in points (19), rebounds (8.2), assists (3.3) and steals (1.9).

The rest of the Broncos starting line-up is solid. Preseason All-WCC selection Keshawn Justice (13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg), dropped 22 on the Zags earlier this season and spectacular sophomore guard Carlos Stewart (15 ppg, 2.2 apg) will team with Podziemski for the next two seasons giving the Broncos one of the WCC’s best backcourt duos. Jaden Bediako and Parker Braun are both highly skilled senior bigs. With Herb Sendek at the helm, you know they are well coached.

Despite their two losses last week, Santa Clara is still a dangerous top 100 team, KemPom’s 79th on offense and 125th on defense.

KenPom predicts a 86-74 Zag win and ESPN show Gonzaga’s win chance at 93.5%.

What to watch out for

Keep Podziemski out of the paint

Podziemski facilitates a large portion of the Broncos offense off the high ball screen. Switch slowly and he’ll drive the lane for an easy lefty lay-up or to dish to a big if help arrives. if the defender slides behind the screen, he’ll step back and shoot the three. Defending high ball screens, St. Mary’s loves them (Kyle Wiltjer flashback), will be a key to Gonzaga’s success this weekend. It needs to start on Thursday with Timme and Watson being aggressive when switching and minimizing Podziemski’s ability to drive the lane.

Hit your free throws

Santa Clara plays four, sometimes five bigs and they played Drew Timme very aggressively and physically last time they met. In that game, the Broncos picked up 21 fouls, sent GU to the line 22 times, while shooting only 4 free throws themselves. Gonzaga made 19 of 21 free throws in the win against Kentucky. It doesn’t have to be that good, but I’d sure be happy with 75% or 80% tomorrow.

Nolan Hickman returns to form

In the first Santa Clara game, Nolan Hickman was an ice-cold assassin, going 8 for 9 from the field, 4 of 5 from deep including the three to give the Zags the lead with 1:13 left to play. He’s been 1 for 11 from the field in the last two games and only had a single assist versus three turnovers against Portland. Here’s hoping he’s truly a Broncobuster and big game against Santa Clara begins a strong February.

Sure, Smith, Bolton and Sallis can all run the point, but Nolan Hickman is the point guard. The team needs him tomorrow, really needs him on Saturday and he will be the key to success in March.