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#16 Zags WBB Host Santa Clara Tonight

The Broncos are looking like a real force in the Conference

The Gonzaga Women’s team play two games this week at home. The first comes against Santa Clara on Thursday at 9pm EST and the second comes against USD on Saturday at 5pm EST. Thursday’s game will feature on SWX and both matchups will be shown nationally on ESPN+. Let’s jump into the first of these two teams and highlight some areas that could be key to a happy homestead.

Santa Clara came into conference play looking like real contenders with their impressive defense complemented nicely by an effective offense. Since publishing this mid-season review of the team on nine days ago, the Broncos have only played one game where they emerged victorious in a barn burner against the Pacific Tigers that ended 80-77. This marked only the third time this season Santa Clara has given up 70 or more points and the first of which they’ve won.

Star junior guard Tess Heal extended her streak to five games with of 20 or more points by dropping 30 points (7-14 FG and 15-17 FT) while also adding 6 assists and 4 rebounds. The other notable performances include the team’s second leading scorer, Olivia Pollerd, stepping up for 20 points (9-18 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks along with their third leading scorer, Marya Hudgins, contributing 12 points (4-9 FG, all threes), 4 rebounds, and 2 assist. While the team only managed to shoot 43% from two, they shot an impressive 41% from deep on 27 attempts, which represents about 7% higher than their season average.

The main key to this victory for the Broncos looks to have come from two main points. First, Tess Heal got the foul line 17 times and made 15 of her attempts. While this didn’t lead to anyone from Pacific fouling out, it did kill some of their momentum at times and forced the coaching staff to employ less than ideal substitution patterns. Second, Pacific committed 14 turnovers, which was below their season average of nearly 18, but those led to 17 points by the Santa Clara. Those errors have to hurt for a Tigers team that shot 54.5% overall from the field, matched the Broncos in total rebounds while successfully making all of their second chance opportunities, and exceeded their season scoring average.

As you could probably tell from the individual statistics noted above, Santa Clara doesn’t feature the deepest team with regards to point production so figuring out how to limit one of either Heal or Pollerd will likely dictate how Gonzaga fares tonight. With regards to Heal, I think one important factor will be limiting her trips to the foul line because she’s averaging 6.5 attempts per game and making 91% of her attempts. For some perspective, Yvonne leads all Gonzaga players in free throws and she averages just over 3 per game. Just based on watching the Pacific game and looking at her season averages, Tess wants to drive the ball where she’ll either draw the foul, take it to the hoop, or kick it outside for a perimeter shot. She tends to use her agility and reading of the defenders’ positioning to make timely cuts rather than outright speed so positional discipline will be important because the majority of Santa Clara’s three pointers look to come from spot-up attempts because of inappropriate help defense from drivers.

While Hess clearly leads her team in points, Santa Clara is filled with fairly good shooters at a variety of positions and they 64th nationally with a nearly 35% clip from three point range with 7 players averaging at least 1 per game. For comparison, Gonzaga has just four players averaging more than 1 per game. Pollerd presents an interesting matchup since the forward contributes her scoring fairly evenly from both inside (6.4 2FG/g) and outside (6.1 3FG/g) so her defender will need to be flexible with their assignment. Marya Hudgins leads her team in rebounds with 7.6, but she’s not just going to post-up inside as evident by her 38% three point shooting on three attempts per game. Jayde Cadee may only play 14 minutes per game, but she’s chucking up 4 three pointers per game and converting just under 39% of those attempts. Lara Edmanson averages just over 7 points per game and while she’ll primarily be a threat inside with her 53% 2FG, she can also step outside and knock down the occasional three as she’s averaging nearly 43% from range.

One thing I noticed while watching the Pacific game was that when Heal wasn’t initiating the offense, she would often slot down into the right corner and basically just camp out while her teammates ran the offense. Given her usage rate (31% on the season), this could present an opportunity for Gonzaga to play almost 5 on 4 since Heal does not look to take many spot-up three pointers and did not show much off-ball movement against the Tigers

Gonzaga’s shooting against Portland was not great, but they still managed to post 74 points. As noted above, Santa Clara has only won one game in which they’ve given up 70 points and in games when they’ve given up 60 points, they’re only 2-3 with one of those wins coming against lowly Sacramento State (340th NET). If you were to tell me right now that the Bulldogs score 80 points, I would feel immensely confident in sending the Broncos home with a loss because outside of their top three scorers, I just don’t think Santa Clara has the needed offensive firepower to keep up given that they’ve only done it twice this year against D1 opponents. That’s to say this won’t be a tough matchup given that the Broncos have beaten Oregon and Arizona State to fuel their 61st NET ranking, but if Gonzaga performs at the level we’ve seen this year, I think they win.

Individually, I’m really hoping one, or both, of the Truong sisters break out of their slump. Since the Stanford game, Kaylynne is averaging just 7.5 points (25% 2FG and 35% 3FG) and she’s eclipsed 10 points just twice. Over the same time frame, Kayleigh has performed well with nearly 12 points per game, but she’s only shot above 40% once and is coming off a 1-7 performance against Portland. It’d also be ideal to see Eliza hit some of her three pointers because it adds a whole other dimension for this offense and, it should go without saying, Yvonne has to avoid foul trouble because she’s a star and the driver of the bus.

What do y’all think of this matchup? What are you looking for tonight?