Gonzaga-Santa Clara Preview
Gonzaga stepped out of West Coast Conference play and furthered the best start in school history, beating a foe that had given it plenty of trouble.
Now the No. 2 team in the nation, the Bulldogs get back to business as usual against one of the conference teams they've generally dismantled.
Mark Few's team heads to Santa Clara on Thursday night seeking a 16th straight win while continuing to make its case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Prior to Saturday's 82-64 home win over Memphis, Gonzaga (22-1, 10-0) had dropped six of seven against the Tigers dating to the 2005-06 season.
The Bulldogs matched a 15-game winning streak from 2012-13 when the school earned its first-ever No. 1 seed in the tournament, and they haven't had a better run since a 20-game streak in 2005-06 that ended in the Sweet 16 against national finalist UCLA.
Their final eight games plus the conference tournament will all be against WCC foes, so they were happy to have something different thrown their way.
"It was good for us to just play a different style," senior guard Kevin Pangos said. "I think our team did a good job responding to the matchups and how that team was playing as opposed to a West Coast Conference team."
Gonzaga shot 55.3 percent to improve its NCAA-best season mark to 52.8. Przemek Karnowski scored 17 points, Kyle Wiltjer added 15 and freshman Domantas Sabonis recorded his second straight 13-point, 11-rebound effort.
Sabonis is averaging 11.7 points and 10.5 boards in the last six games, while Karnowski is averaging 13.0 points and shooting 74.1 percent in his last four.
"Przem is a load down there. He's a real load," Few said. "If he can do it against (Memphis forwards) Shaq (Goodwin) and (Austin) Nichols and guys like that, I mean you can pretty much do it against everybody."
Santa Clara included.
Gonzaga has won nine in a row over the Broncos (11-12, 5-6) and 31 of 33 meetings by an average of 13.2 points dating to the 2001 conference tournament. The latest was a 79-57 victory on Jan. 10 behind Karnowski's game-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. The 7-foot-1 center is averaging 13.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in four career starts in the series.
The 22-point win was in line with Gonzaga's 17.3-point winning margin in the league, but the series hasn't been devoid of close games. Besides the Bulldogs needing a layup with two seconds left to win 77-75 in last year's WCC tournament, the last 11 meetings at Santa Clara have been decided by an average of 4.8 points - including the Broncos' 14-point victory in 2011.
Santa Clara is 4-1 in the conference at home and 1-5 on the road after Saturday's 78-57 loss at BYU. The Broncos have shot 34.5 percent from the field and 23.3 from 3-point range in consecutive losses, while Gonzaga has held its last five opponents to 32.7 and 23.6, respectively.
Top scorer Brandon Clark (16.0 points per game) was held to 11 on 4-of-16 shooting against BYU, and Gonzaga has provided him with similar struggles. He's averaged 10.0 points and shot 28.6 percent in the last three meetings. Clark was 2 of 9 for four points in Spokane last month.
Backcourt mate Jared Brownridge has averaged 14.0 points in four career games against the Bulldogs.
At the other end, Santa Clara has been lit up from 3-point range in the last two games, surrendering a 22-of-39 mark (56.4 percent).
The Broncos have dropped their last 25 games against the Top 25, and 16 of those opponents have been Gonzaga.