Santa Clara aims to hand No. 4 Gonzaga first loss

Santa Clara’s road sweep of San Diego and Pepperdine last week put the host Broncos a half-game away from No. 4 Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference standings if they can pull off the upset Thursday.

Only four teams have winning conference records and coach Herb Sendek’s Broncos are one of them at 4-2 with an overall record of 10-9. Gonzaga tops the conference standings at 5-0 and the Bulldogs are 17-0 overall, the only team left in the nation with an unbeaten record.

St. Mary’s is second behind Gonzaga at 5-1 after losing 79-56 in Spokane, Wash., last Saturday and BYU and Santa Clara are next at 4-2.

The Broncos achieved the road sweep last week despite only one victory away from home in seven previous games.

“It’s good to get out of here with a win,” Sendek said of the 75-61 win over Pepperdine on Saturday behind Jared Brownridge’s 30 points. “I told our guys we did a lot of good things that we can continue to build on.”

The Broncos showed the kind of offensive firepower against the Waves that they will need to keep up with Gonzaga, which ranks first in the WCC and 16th nationally in scoring offense at 85.6 points a game.

Santa Clara scored 50 points in the second half against Pepperdine on 60 percent shooting from the field, including an 8-of-13 mark from 3-point range. Brownridge scored 30 or more points for the 11th time in his career to extend his own school record.

“We showed how we are capable of playing by showing that energy to get things done,” said Brownridge, who averages 17.9 points to lead the Broncos.

Guards K.J. Feagin and Matt Hauser combine for 25.1 points and 10.3 assists per game. Forward Nate Kratch averages 10.3 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds per game.

Kratch, who is 6-foot-8 and 227 pounds, and forward Jarvis Pugh (6-6, 210) have the most presence in the paint combining for 19.2 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.

Santa Clara literally will have a tall order to compete against 7-1, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski and 7-0 reserve forward Zach Collins in addition to 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams and 6-10 reserve center Killian Tillie.

Karnowski leads the WCC shooting 68.2 percent from the field in conference games and Williams is shooting 65.5 percent. Collins is shooting 64.5 percent overall, which tops the conference. Tillie adds another body to absorb fouls and attack the boards.

The victory over St. Mary’s, in which Gonzaga shot 64.7 percent of the floor, served notice how fluid and effective coach Mark Few’s offense is executing.

“With our offense, coach (Few) stresses getting multiple ball screens,” said point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who leads the team in scoring (15.2 points a game) and assists (4.8) and is shooting a career-high 41 percent beyond the 3-point arc.

“When you have (guard) Josh (Perkins) on one side and me on the other, both ball screens are equally effective and it really puts the defense in a tough position.”