GAME NOTES: The Gonzaga Bulldogs begin the second half of their West Coast Conference schedule on Wednesday as they take on the Santa Clara Broncos at the Leavey Center.
Coach Mark Few's Bulldogs are two games in front of the Saint Mary's with their 8-1 WCC record after their 84-69 victory over BYU on Saturday. The win was the fourth in a row for Gonzaga, which experienced its only loss in league action to Portland on the road on Jan. 9. Gonzaga was firing on all cylinders when it defeated the Cougars last time out, converting 57.4 percent of its field goal attempts including 10-of-22 from 3-point range along with a perfect 12- of-12 showing at the free-throw line. The Bulldogs rank second nationally in field-goal percentage (.515) and net 80.7 ppg.
Santa Clara fell closer to the bottom of the WCC standings on Saturday when it dropped a 75-66 decision at San Francisco. Coach Kerry Keating's Broncos were limited to 39 percent shooting from the field and finished with only six assists against nine turnovers by the Dons. Santa Clara has one of the lowest scoring offense averages in the conference with just 71.8 ppg. The Broncos are also weak defensively and could especially have trouble containing the Bulldogs' outside shooting.
The Broncos were defeated, 74-60, by Gonzaga in the WCC opener for both sides earlier this season. The victory was the 28th in the last 30 matchups for Gonzaga, which owns a sizeable, 50-30, all-time series lead.
Gonzaga will have another weapon the rest of the way as Gary Bell Jr. appeared to be back to full health in the win over BYU. The 6-foot-2 junior guard tallied 14 points and three assists in his second game back from a six-game absence. Kevin Pangos also had a strong showing with 24 points and seven assists while Sam Dower contributed 18 points. David Stockton provided 14 points and seven assists to help the Bulldogs improve to 18-3 overall. Pangos has become the go-to-guy for Few's squad this season with 16.3 ppg and 4.2 apg. The junior guard is one of the most dangerous threats from beyond the arc in the nation with 45.1 percent efficiency from 3-point range. Dower adds 14.4 ppg and 6.6 rpg. Przemek Karnowski is pulling down 7.3 rpg and also rejecting 1.7 shots per tilt.
Santa Clara failed to snap its losing slide versus USF despite another solid outing by Jared Brownridge, who shot 5-of-10 from beyond the arc and 9-of-10 from the foul line, scoring a career-high 30 points for the second consecutive game. Brandon Clark added 12 points but also committed five turnovers against the Dons. Clark (17.7 ppg) is third in the WCC in scoring and has hit on 41 of his tries from behind the 3-point line, while Brownridge has risen his scoring average to 17.2 ppg, good for fifth best in the conference. Brownridge is at the top of the conference leaderboard in 3-point shooting, averaging a trio per game.
When these WCC rivals squared off in late December, the Bulldogs made 23-of-31 free-throw attempts and forced SCU into 15 turnovers. Gonzaga knocked down only 5-of-13 attempts from 3-point range in the tilt, but should get more open looks from the perimeter as the Broncos will be forced to take away the inside. Bell will play a vital role as he is Gonzaga's best on-ball defender.
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