Feb. 8, 2006
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Throughout the college basketball world, this week is generally known as rivalry week. On tobacco road, Duke defeated North Carolina Tuesday night. Big East powers Connecticut and Syracuse face off tonight while in the Big 12, Oklahoma State hosts its bitter in-state rival Sooners. In the Big Ten, it doesn't get much bigger than Ohio State versus Michigan on Thursday night.
In the Bay Area, rivalry week also takes on special meaning when the Broncos play a two-game West Coast Conference set against Saint Mary's College this weekend. On Saturday, Santa Clara travels to Moraga for a 7 p.m. contest at a sold-out McKeon Pavilion on Fox Sports Bay Area. The two teams play a return match in the Leavey Center on Monday night at 7 p.m. in a game that will be televised by Comcast SportsNet West.
Tickets to Monday's game against Saint Mary's are available by calling 408/554-4660 or by clicking here
In what is believed to be the second-oldest series in the Bay Area, (only SCU's series against San Francisco and San Jose State, which started a year earlier, are older) the two teams will meet for the 196th time Saturday since the series began in 1910. For the record, local rivals Cal and Stanford's series (which also resumes this week) began either in 1912 or 1913, depending on which school's record-book is to be believed.
In five of the last six seasons, Santa Clara has swept its regular-season league series against rival Saint Mary's. However, the Gaels have gained the upper-hand in three of those years by knocking the Broncos out of the WCC Tournament.
Last season, Santa Clara knocked-off Saint Mary's in Moraga with a convincing 65-42 victory just a week after the Gaels hit a school-record 16 three-pointers to defeat 11th-ranked Gonzaga. A month later, the Broncos again earned a win with a 78-76 decision in the near-sold out Leavey Center.
The two teams enter Saturday's game in similar situations. The WCC travel partners are both coming off a split against Northwest rivals Portland and Gonzaga on the road. Both teams are out of contention for the WCC regular-season title and are looking for a higher seed in the league's postseason tournament. And, both teams are looking to finish the season strong and end with a winning record.
Perhaps most importantly, the two programs both lost a number of key performers from last year's squads. Santa Clara graduated 41 percent of its scoring and 42 percent of its rebounding from a year ago. Similarly, Saint Mary's entered the season looking to replace 62 percent of its scoring and 54 percent of its rebounding from last year.
Santa Clara enters the weekend with a 9-12 overall record and a 2-7 WCC mark after handing Portland an 80-56 loss Monday night at the Chiles Center. The Broncos registered its best shooting performance in 17 years with a 32-for-49, 65.3 percent effort from the field. The 24-point win was the biggest over Portland since 1987.
Senior forward Travis Niesen is the WCC's third-leading scorer with an average of 18.9 points per game. His 6.5 rebounds per game is the second-best on the team and ranks seventh in the league. The Mission Viejo, Calif. native has surpassed the 20-point mark on 10 occasions this season and has led the team in scoring in 14 of its 21 games.
Sophomore point guard Brody Angley is the WCC leader in assists per game with 5.19 and assist-turnover ratio with a plus-1.85. The Redding, Calif. native is also third in the league in steals with 1.86 per game and his 80 percent free throw percentage is eighth-best in the WCC.
Forward Mitch Henke has been SCU's top scorer in three of the last four games and is second on the team with a 10.2 per game scoring average. The Minnetonka, Minn. native has increased his output by more than eight points per game and joins Angley as the only two players to start each of the team's 21 games this season.
As a team, Santa Clara is one of the WCC's top defensive squads. The Broncos are limiting opponents to just .406 shooting from the field despite ranking sixth in three-point field goal percentage defense. SCU is third in the league in rebounding, rebound margin and blocked shots.
Saint Mary's (10-11, 3-6 in the WCC) is coming off an inspired 62-61 last-second loss at fifth-ranked Gonzaga on Monday night. The Gaels were tied with Gonzaga with just .05 seconds left on the clock. Bulldog forward Sean Mallon was fouled by Daniel Kickert on an in-bounds pass under the basket. Mallon connected on his second free throw attempt to allow GU to escape the upset.
Kickert is the WCC's sixth-leading scorer with an average of 17.1 points per game and is second in the league in free throw percentage, connecting on 89.4 percent of his attempts at the line. In his three games against Santa Clara last season, he averaged 20.3 points and led the team in scoring twice.
The Gaels also feature one of the league's top defensive squads, leading the WCC in scoring defense by allowing opponents just 65.0 points per game. SMC is also leading the WCC in rebounding and rebound margin.