The Santa Clara Broncos may be turning the corner in Head Coach Bill Carr’s eighth year as the team currently sits at 12-3 heading into conference play. With only two winning seasons since taking over in 15-16’, the Broncos were predicted to finish third, tied with Pacific, in the WCC Preseason Coaches Poll as they returned a healthy core, in fact 75% of their scoring, from last season’s team that sneaked out a win against Gonzaga
While the Broncos do have two wins against non-D1 opponents, they deserve some credit for getting their expected wins along with victories over Oregon and Arizona State on the road. Of their three defeats, it’s safe to say those should be considered quality losses given that they’ve come on the road against Oregon State and California and to Texas Tech on a neutral court in Las Vegas. As it stands, besides Gonzaga, Santa Clara possess the highest NET ranking in the WCC, 60th.
One reason for this success looks to stem from their defense that is currently leading the WCC by a wide margin in points allowed with just 53.6 per game. For comparison, the next leading team is Portland and they’re allowing 62.2 per game. If we exclude the two non-D1 opponents, that number naturally increases some, but outside of their defeats to Cal (71-56) and Oregon State (80-52), the Broncos have only given up more than 60 points on two occasions so far. They’re effectiveness looks to come from quality team defense as they don’t have anyone with notable numbers with regards to rebounds, steals, or blocks, but they are holding teams to just 37.2% overall shooting and an impressive 27.2% from three while also grabbing just over 40 rebounds per game (79th nationally). This naturally results in a quality opposition points per possession of just 0.75, which leads the WCC. They’re pace ratings may not be too impressive as they sit at just 68, but the high flying Zags check-in with a pace rating of just 68.4 so Santa Clara shouldn’t be accused of making the game a slog.
Offensively, the Broncos currently sit second in the WCC for points per possession with 0.84 and present a fairly similar picture to the Zags with regards to how/where they get those points with 50.8% from two, 33.4% from three, and 15.9% from the charity stripe. When looking at their averages so far, Santa Clara possesses above average shooting percentages with their two-pointers, 46.9% (137th nationally), and three-pointers, 34.4% (78th nationally) while also being able to clean-up the offensive glass fairly with 13.5 per game (88th nationally).
The team is currently led by the All-WCC Preseason Team member Tess Heal. The Australian sophomore guard won WCC Rookie of the Year last season and has started of this campaign with startlingly similar numbers as last year’s with her 17.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.5 rbg, and 1 spg. Her two point field goal percentage has dropped some, 53.1% to 46.4%, but her three point percentage has made an impressive jump up to 42.4% from 27.3% the year prior all while shooting essentially the same amount from each area in her 30 minutes per game. While she does average 3.8 turnovers per game, I’d imagine those occur moreso in her attempts to facilitate her team members rather than getting pick-pocketed as she leads her team in assists by a large margin (only one other team member averaging >2) and gets to the line nearly 6 times per game and makes just under 91% of her shots from the line. In her last three games, the likely All-WCC Team selection candidate has scored 21, 22, and 23, so she’s coming into conference play hot.
She’ll play alongside the 6’3” junior forward, Olivia Pollerd, who is currently averaging 14.5 ppg, 4.7 rbg, 1.9 apg, and 0.9 bpg. Despite her size, Olivia looks to operate moreso as a stretch big given that she averages a team-high 6.1 three pointers per game and converts those at an impressive 41.3% rate, which is about 7 points higher than her efficiency from last season. That’s not too say she can’t make her presence felt within the arc as she’s averaging 56.2% on her 6 attempts per game so whether Yvonne or Eliza draw the primary defensive duty, they’ll have to be ready for her spark. Like Tess, Olivia has comes into conference play with confidence as she’s scored 22, 19, and 19 in her last three games.
Marya Hudgins may not have started a game this year, but in her nearly 23 minutes per game, she’s third on her team with 9.9 ppg while leading the team in rebounds with 7.8 per game. That being said, 6’0” sophomore won’t operate exclusively within the paint like some other bigs as she’s currently averaging 33.3% on her 3 attempts from deep per game and this appears even more obvious as she’s averaging just 41.2% on her attempts from within the arc.
Those three players provide a strong core for the Broncos not just this year, but in years to come and I’d predict they could be a leading candidate for next campaign’s WCC Preseason Coaches Poll. However, let’s focus on the 23-24’ season for now so hit the comments below to give me your opinions on the Santa Clara Broncos heading into conference play!