#1 Gonzaga vs. #9 Santa Clara
Date: Saturday, March 8th, 2014
Location: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nev.
Time: 6:00 p.m PST
This Season: Gonzaga won in Spokane by 14 points and in Santa Clara by two.
Gary Bell Jr.
Ask most Gonzaga fans who they would rather play in the second round tournament, and a vast majority would say they would rather matchup with Pacific than Santa Clara. In two regular season contests against the Bulldogs, both teams were swept, but it was the Broncos who gave GU the much bigger challenge.
The Zags dominated Pacific this season, defeating the Tigers by 17.5 points per contest. However, The Broncos have been much more competitive with the Bulldogs. In Spokane, Santa Clara had a brief lead early in the second half, and went toe-to-toe with Gonzaga until the Bulldogs pulled away en route to a 14 point victory. In Santa Clara, it was a Sam Dower 3-point jumper that was needed to defeat the Broncos on their home court.
Low and behold, it was Santa Clara who defeated Pacific on Thursday and is slated to take on the Bulldogs on Saturday. The Broncos had little trouble with the Tigers in their first round matchup, defeating the Tigers by 17 points. The Broncos backcourt combined to score 54 points as a unit, and Pacific had no answer for the likes of Brandon Clark, Evan Roquemore and WCC newcomer of the year Jared Brownridge.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs also have a convincing victory fresh in their minds. The Bulldogs slaughtered their archrivals, the Saint Mary’s Gaels, by 28 points last Saturday to end the regular season. A week prior, the Bulldogs lost two straight conference games to BYU and San Diego, something that has only happened three times in Mark Few’s coaching tenure.
Keys to the Game
The Gonzaga Bulldogs might not face a backcourt as potent as Santa Clara’s throughout the course of the WCC tournament. Clark, Brownridge and Roquemore all have the talent to drop 20 points on any given night. The Bulldog guards need to make sure they keep at least two of the trio in check. If multiple players in Santa Clara’s backcourt goes off, the Bulldogs will be susceptible to an upset.
No inside-out action for the Bulldogs
The Zags are at their best when their big men are dictating the middle of the paint and kicking out to open shooters on the perimeter. To disallow this, the Broncos need to force the ball to stay in the hands of the Bulldogs guards. If they force the GU backcourt to force shots and attempt to beat Santa Clara singlehandedly, the chances of upset skyrockets for Santa Clara.
This game is a story of two opposite teams. The Broncos essentially have nothing to lose in this game, as they are far removed from the NCAA at-large conversation and a loss to the one-seed would not be too embarrassing.
Gonzaga on the other hand has a lot to lose. The Bulldogs could fall down to the bubble with an errant loss in the conference tournament, not to mention a loss to a low seed would be embarrassing for a program such as Gonzaga.
If the Bulldogs come out tight against Santa Clara and the Broncos are loose and ready to just play, they could be in trouble. However, Gonzaga is usually fairly poised and prepared in these types of games, and typically take care of business. I’ll take the Zags in this one. Gonzaga 75, Santa Clara 63.