Broncos Ready To Open League Play

Broncos Ready To Open League Play

Jan. 5, 2006

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Last summer, the West Coast Conference executive committee voted to try a new Saturday-Monday format in men's basketball for the 2005-06 season.

League coaches and officials cited increased national television coverage via ESPN's popular "Big Monday" package, the potential for a larger pool of available officials and possible increases in media coverage as legitimate reasons for making the switch.

With league play opening this weekend, there should be no better showcase for the WCC's new format than Santa Clara's Leavey Center.

Listen to Dick Davey's thoughts on the Broncos' WCC opener in a weekly audio feature on Broncos All-Access.

The Broncos open their 54th season of WCC play Saturday night when they host the Portland Pilots in a 7 p.m. tipoff in the Leavey Center. On Monday, Santa Clara tips-off the "Big Monday" package with a sold-out ESPN2 contest against eighth-ranked Gonzaga.

Tickets for Saturday's game are available by clicking here or by calling the SCU Athletic Ticket Office during business hours at 408/554-4660. Live coverage of all Bronco men's and women's basketball games is available locally on KNTS-AM (1220) or via the Internet on Broncos All-Access.

Santa Clara enters Saturday's game with a 7-5 record and winners of three of its last four non-conference outings. The Broncos have not played since taking a 77-68 victory over highly-respected Bucknell in the championship game of the Cable Car Classic on Dec. 29.

In addition to the win over the Bison during the non-league season, the Broncos recorded solid victories over the University of the Pacific and at San Jose State. SCU also dropped an overtime decision at Mississippi State as well as hard-fought contests at North Carolina and Oregon.

The key to SCU's success in the preseason has been its trademark defense. The Broncos have held opposing defenses to some of the lowest statistical marks since Dick Davey took over 14 seasons ago.

SCU is holding opponents to just .376 shooting from the field, blocking 4.5 shots per game and limiting opposing offenses to just 63.2 points per game. The Broncos lead the WCC in each of the three categories and rank 14th nationally in field goal percentage defense.

Offensively, Santa Clara is led by senior captain Travis Niesen (Mission Viejo, Calif.), who ranks second behind national-leading Adam Morrison in the WCC with a 20.3 per game scoring average. The 6'-7" forward has surpassed the 20-point barrier on seven occasions this season and has led the team in nine of its 12 games. He has 1,095 career points at Santa Clara and enters the Portland contest ranked 22nd on the Bronco career scoring charts.

In the two games of the Cable Car Classic, Niesen averaged 23.5 points per game and was named the tournament's most valuable player. He was also selected as the WCC Player of the Week.

Freshman John Bryant (San Pablo, Calif.) leads the Broncos and ranks third in the WCC in rebounds with an average of 7.9 per game. He has four double-figure rebounding performances this season, including a 17-rebound effort against UC Riverside in the Cable Car Classic.

Sophomore forward Mitch Henke (Minnetonka, Minn.) is second on the SCU squad in scoring, averaging 10.9 points per outing. He is also second on the team in three-point percentage (.400) behind freshman Calvin Johnson's (Morton, Texas) .435 from behind the arc.

Portland enters Saturday's contest with a 6-8 record with quality home wins over the University of Oregon and Oregon State, both at home in the Chiles Center. The Pilots are 5-1 at home on the season and earned their first road win in six games with a 66-61 victory at Cal Poly on Dec. 30.

Eugene Jeter is seventh in the WCC in scoring with a 15.5 per game average, while teammate Darren Cooper is 12th at 13.2.

Santa Clara has won 15 of the last 20 meetings between the two teams and three of the last four. The longest win streak of the series was from 1998-2002 when the Broncos took 10 in a row. Since the Leavey Center was renovated five seasons ago, Santa Clara has won four of the five games between the two teams.

Last season, the teams split the two meetings with Santa Clara taking a 76-63 victory behind Travis Niesen's career-high 35 points at the Leavey Center. Portland earned a 75-62 win in the Chiles Center that was keyed by Ben Sullivan's career high 19 points.