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#23 Gonzaga @ Santa Clara Preview

The first road test for the Zags in West Coast Conference play is not to be taken lightly.

NCAA Basketball: Santa Clara at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Herb Sendek has turned Santa Clara into a respectable program out on the West Coast over the last half of a decade. He has produced two NBA first round picks (Jalen Williams, Brandin Podziemski) and won 20+ games in three of the last four seasons (including two NIT appearances). Give Sendek a lot of credit for turning bench players from other premier programs and giving them an immediate opportunity to shine.

This is still an important Quad 2 opportunity for the Zags. What’s most exciting is the two West Coast Conference Player of the Year candidates who will be battling it out (Gonzaga’s Graham Ike and Santa Clara’s Adama Bal). You definitely want to be there if you’re in the Silicon Valley area.

Santa Clara’s record -

11-6, 2-0 (W vs Utah Tech, W vs Saint Francis, W @ Stanford, W vs Southeastern Louisiana, W vs Mississippi Valley State, W vs Oregon, L vs Ohio State, W vs Menlo College, L @ California, L vs New Mexico, L vs Utah State, W vs Washington State, L @ San Jose State, W vs Duquesne, L vs Yale, W @ LMU, W @ Pepperdine)

Key stats -

76.6 PPG

71.5 points allowed

46.9 FG%

37.4 3P%

70.6 FT%

38.9 RPG

14.4 APG

5.1 SPG

3.1 BPG

13.3 TO

KenPom rankings -

#115 overall

107.8 adjusted offensive efficiency (#122)

102.7 adjusted defensive efficiency (#125)

Key player to watch for -

Adama Bal (junior, guard/forward) - 15.9 PPG on 49.4 FG% - 41.0 3P% - 88.2 FT%, 3.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG

Herb Sendek has yet another NBA prospect in the Arizona transfer. You can tell how much Bal has physically developed since leaving Tucson after two seasons under Tommy Lloyd. To think the Frenchman could have been a Zag if Lloyd had stayed in Spokane.

“He’s a three-level scorer,” Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg said. “He’s a big, long, tall guard who’s athletic and can shoot the ball as well... so being able to shut him down and don’t let his length get to the rim and score over guys, just playing physical. He’s super talented, scoring a lot of points, so it’s going to be the first time we see him.”

Bal is excellent in the pick and roll due to his patience alongside 7’0” Christoph Tilly and has strong chemistry with his backcourt partner in Carlos Marshall Jr. out on the perimeter (shooting a team-high 47.3 3P%).

Due to Santa Clara’s massive size in the frontcourt, Watson and Ike will have their hands full near the rim. Stromer will spend most of his time following Bal around so that’s the key defensive matchup to focus in on.

The first West Coast Conference road matchup for the Zags will be at the Leavey Center on Thursday at 6:30 PM PT on ESPN. A national TV audience awaits.

Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho