Story updated Jan. 7, 2012.
This Saturday, the Broncos and Bulldogs face off for the first time this season at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Center. Always a great game, this year’s Gonzaga face-off has high stakes as Santa Clara’s men’s basketball team brings a 12–3 record onto the court against the No. 10 team in the country.
Tip off is at 5 p.m. and the game will be televised regionally on CSN California. In addition, fans can follow the action live online at client.stretchinternet.com/client/santaclara.portal#.
Before you slather on the face paint, here are five things to know about this year’s annual Bronco-Zag throwdown.
1. It’s a new year in Santa Clara
So far this season, nobody would guess the Broncos endured a 0–16 record in the West Coast Conference last year. What a difference a year makes—this season, Santa Clara is the only school in the country with three active 1,000 point career scorers and the Broncos have a sterling 12–3 record. Two of those losses happened in overtime and the third occurred on the road to Duke, the nation’s top team. SCU opened WCC play on Wednesday night with a 74–69 win over the University of San Francisco.
2. The Broncos can play tough against anyone
Before SCU fell 90–77 against the No. 1 ranked Blue Devils, the Broncos kept pace with Duke and trailed by only two points at halftime. The team earned high praise from legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewkski (or “Coach K,” as he’s affectionately known).
“This was like a February ACC game,” he said. “They’re men. They’re a man’s team.”
It’s not just Coach K who is taking notice. In ESPN’s latest rankings of mid-major teams, SCU edged into the top 15 to join Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and BYU as the four WCC teams represented.
3. How good is Gonzaga?
Really good. The No. 10 Zags are powered by a pair of big forwards—7’0” Kelly Olynyk and 6’8” Elias Harris—who lead the team in both rebounding and scoring. It seems as if nobody is picking against Gonzaga to carry the WCC, and most are predicting a deep NCAA tournament run.
4. Do the Broncos stack up against Gonzaga?
While Gonzaga is the clear favorite, Santa Clara does have one important advantage—the best pure scorer in Saturday’s game just might be Kevin Foster ’13, ranked no. 2 nationally in active career points. Earlier this season, Foster became the all-time leading scorer in SCU history, surpassing Kurt Rambis ’80. Fellow senior Marc Trasolini ’13, the team’s leading rebounder and the WCC’s leading shot blocker, will have his work cut out for him against Olynyk and Harris, but thus far looks up to the task. A possible wildcard in the inside game against the Gonzaga bigs could be redshirt sophomore Yannick Atanga ’15, who had a breakout effort against USF, pulling down 13 rebounds and blocking two shots.
5. The home court will be key
The Broncos always seem to play Gonzaga tough at home, with a win coming in the 2010–11 season, when coach Kerry Keating led his Broncos to a 85–71 upset. Foster delivered 36 points for the Broncos during the win.
Keating, knowing just how important the home court advantage will be, made a generous offer to students, telling the San Jose Mercury News that since dorms don’t open until Sunday, “I want them to personally call the office and I will reimburse them up to $100 for a hotel room. I want all the students here.”
RECORDS SET, BUT BRONCOS FALL TO GONZAGA
A record, standing-room-only crowd of 4,907 packed the Leavey Center, as Santa Clara fell short of Gonzaga, 81–74 on Saturday, Jan. 5. Kevin Foster ’13 scored 29 points, bumping his career total over 2,000. Gonzaga received a career performance from another one of the West Coast Conference’s best players as Kelly Olynyk set a career-high with 33 points.
For a full recap of the game, including photos, highlights, and post-game interviews, check out the SCU athletics website.