Feb. 4, 2002
The Broncos best chance at a run in league play starts Thursday with the first of four straight home games and an opportunity to beat a ranked team for the first time since '96 when mighty Gonzaga (#10 in the coaches poll) comes to the Leavey Center. Assistant Steve Seandel told me after the USF game that they need to start beating teams like Gonzaga and Pepperdine to prove they can do it again once the WCC tourney rolls around. Dick Davey says that would be nice, but not a prerequisite:
"Every game matters. We're trying to win it. We're doing everything we can to prepare to win it against a team that physically may be a little bit better. They shoot it a little better and may be better in the post than we are offensively. They are a smart team, a mature team. We've got to go and figure out a way to win. In the process, the practices are almost as important as the games right now because we are figuring out how to get better. There are things execution-wise, if we can do them would give us a little more confidence in ourselves. I am really as focused on how we practice right now as much as on how we play the games."
Regular season success helps give you a favorable draw but absolutely no guarantees when it comes to March. On three occasions, the number one seed has been bounced in the first round. In each titantic upset, it was the Broncos being sent home by the last place team.
Despite Dan Dickau's Leavey Center record 39 points, the Broncos beat Gonzaga last year in the third game of a six-game streak that took them to the final. It was a huge night for current Santa Clara stars Steve Ross and Kyle Bailey. Ross led the Broncos with 22 points and the freshman Bailey scored 10 of his 16 in crunch time after Brian Jones fouled out. They beat a real good team for the first time last season and no doubt added confidence when they faced adversity in the tournament semi against the Waves.
This season in Spokane, Ross's out-of-body experience (23 of 38 points in the second half) kept his team afloat and proved they could compete with anyone in the league on a given night. He's been a marked man since and no doubt will be the focus of the Gonzaga defense. Dickau scored 29, making big plays when it mattered most, but was bothered by freshman point guard Bakari Altheimer. In fact, a questionable Altheimer foul call on what appeared to be a clean block prevented the Broncos from taking over in the closing moments with a chance to silence the Kennel Club-led crowd.
Santa Clara has beaten Gonzaga 21 of 25 times, including the last two, at home. The Broncos have pinned two of Gonzaga's last three losses in conference. Also, the Zags have a pair of big men that have been slowed with ankle sprains recently. With the Pepperdine game at the end of the year on the road, this may be the best chance they have at a huge regular season conference win.
It's a big game, to be sure, but not armageddon. Like Davey says, a win doesn't guarantee anything come tourney time.
But it will sure be fun to watch.