Excuse Santa Clara if it doesn’t watch film of its two matchups against Gonzaga last season.
It wouldn’t rate as enjoyable content, as the Broncos lost by an average of 51 points.
The top-ranked Bulldogs will look to knock off Santa Clara for the 20th consecutive time when they meet the Broncos on Thursday in a West Coast Conference game at Spokane, Wash.
Gonzaga (18-1, 4-0 WCC) has won 10 straight games, and its 32-game home winning streak is the longest active stretch in the nation. The Bulldogs’ domination of Santa Clara includes 42 wins in the past 44 meetings, including last season’s two wipeouts.
First, the Bulldogs posted a 91-48 home victory over the Broncos. The rematch was even more one-sided as Gonzaga cruised 98-39, the 59-point margin falling two shy of the school record.
The Bulldogs set a program record by committing only two turnovers during a game in which they held Santa Clara to 27.1 percent shooting from the field.
That’s the backdrop as the improved Broncos (15-3, 2-1) roll into the Pacific Northwest.
“Our team has grown a lot and in very good ways,” Santa Clara forward Josip Vrankic said. “I feel like we’re a lot more connected. We play really hard, and that’s the biggest thing. The key to winning games is playing good defense and being tough. As we move on through the season, we’ve done a really good job of that.”
Santa Clara is just 1-3 on the road, and the losses to Stanford, Nevada and San Francisco have come by an average of about 23 points.
However, the Broncos broke through on Saturday with a closing 12-4 burst to notch a 67-66 victory at Saint Mary’s. The winning points came on Vrankic’s put-back with 9.4 seconds left.
Vrankic had a season-best 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while forward DJ Mitchell added 16 points.
“It was a really good feeling to get that win,” Mitchell said. “We worked really hard for it.”
Santa Clara will be without forward Guglielmo Caruso (right leg injury) for the fourth consecutive game. Caruso (11.6-point average) is one of four double-digit scorers on the team.
Guard Trey Wertz averages a team-best 12.2 points, while Mitchell is at 11.1 and Vrankic 10.3.
The Bulldogs are coming off two blowout road wins by an average of 34.5 points. They steamrolled San Diego 94-50 last Thursday and knocked off Loyola Marymount 87-62 two days later.
The outcomes were more Gonzaga-like than the team’s first two conference games, when the winning margins were 13 points against Portland and five vs. Pepperdine.
“We’re really a team that has to come out and play with a little bit of an edge and some fire,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few told reporters. “When we relax or get a little casual, it really hurts us, and it shows maybe a lack of crazy overall talent.”
Few discussed the results of the first two WCC games with his top-ranked squad, and it appears the message was deciphered.
“I’ve been on them that there’s accountability and honor that comes with the ranking,” Few said. “You have to come out and own it. You should prepare and play as confident as anyone. By and large, that is what we wanted to do.”
Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring with an 87.8-point average, and the balanced attack features seven players averaging more than nine points per game, including six in double figures.
Power forward Filip Petrusev leads the Bulldogs in scoring (16.6), rebounding (7.9) and blocked shots (23). Forward Corey Kispert (14.1 points, team-high 46 3-pointers) and forward Killian Tillie (12.2) are also major offensive contributors.
–Field Level Media