Jan. 8, 2007
When the schedule was released in the fall, there were several dates worth noting on the calendar: another strong field in the Cable Car, road games at Stanford, Cal and Kentucky. There's annual win over San Jose State but the one that always seems to trump them all is, "when is Gonzaga coming?" It's this Saturday and if you don't have a ticket, you're out of luck since the game has been sold out since December 18th. Use whatever influence you have to get in because this year Santa Clara has a legitimate chance to beat the Zags for the first time since 2001 and snap a 12-game losing streak to the gold standard of the WCC. A victory this weekend and message will be sent that the conference title comes through the South Bay this year. As we look forward to this weekend, SCU fans can cleanse themselves of the heartbreak that has accompanied Gonzaga games over the last five years. Of the 12 defeats, these three caused the most pain.
2001 WCC Final: Gonzaga 80 Santa Clara 77. Of all the games during the streak, this one hurt as much as any. Roaring back from 13 down in the second half by making 10 threes, the Broncos got as close as one point when Kyle Bailey nailed a three with 25 seconds left. After Dan Dickau made a pair of free throws, Santa Clara had one final chance. Unable to get the ball to Brian Jones, Jamie Holmes had a decent look at a leaning three that was off the mark at the buzzer. Manager D.J. Frandsen wore the same towel around his neck during the tournament run with the magic in the fibers helping SCU rally from 19 down in the semifinal to beat Pepperdine. The Gonzaga loss was the final game in the great careers of Jones and Holmes. I've always told B.J. that I felt he deserved to take that shot, make or miss, because of his career and how he carried that program for his four years. He was the player who always threw it in and there was no time to get it back. Once Jones made his inbounds pass, two Zags ran at him, fearful of the consequences of leaving him open.
2004 WCC Semi: Gonzaga 63 Santa Clara 62. Doron Perkins clearly showed he was the best player on the floor with 25 points while Player of the Year Blake Stepp was no factor. That is, until Stepp nailed a three from The Alameda for the Zags first lead with two minutes to go. After Travis Niesen made a scoop shot in the key for a 62-61 lead, SCU needed one more step for a berth in the title game. Rony Turiaf missed a 10-footer in the key and jumped over two Broncos to get his rebound and the stick back with five seconds left put the Zags up one. Taking the ball out of the net, the Broncos rushed up the court in one desperate attempt to prolong their season. Bailey pulled up for a left wing three that rattled out at the buzzer. Niesen slumped to the floor in the key, crestfallen that his team blew a double-figure lead in the second half. Both Perkins and J.R. Patrick rattled out open jumpers in the final minutes that may have given the Broncos enough breathing room.
2005 WCC regular season: Gonzaga 91 Santa Clara 87. Coach Davey said his team's emotions got the best of them and the game turned with three technical fouls in the second half. Perkins slammed the ball on the floor and would later get a double-technical foul in a tangle with Zags' sniper Adam Morrison. Also, Niesen picked up a T for slamming the ball off a Zag going out of bounds after the Broncos closed to within 3. Derek Raivio lit the Leavey Center on fire with a career-high 32 points and single-handedly held the Broncos at arms length with Turiaf being held to only 4 points in 15 minutes. Bailey scored 26 before saying, "I'd hate to have to come back for a sixth year just to beat them."
Any WCC coach will say that all 14 league games are crucial and who could argue that truth? But in order to be the man you have to beat the man. That moment is getting closer with this team better equipped than any in recent years to slay the dragon.
--There is more size this year along the front line than in previous match ups with Gonzaga. Previous teams relied on positioning and guile to battle the likes of Turiaf, Violette and Gourde.
--No Morrison and Batista. While the current edition is certainly a formidable group, 48 points off last year's team disappeared with 2 players. Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt are talents who can create their own shot while Raivio is shedding his image as a limited catch-and-shoot guy. Freshman Matt Bouldin will be a star in this league and has played some big games already on the road. Still, there is no one guy that couldn't be guarded like the past couple years.
--SCU Balance. While there is no go to guy, there are a lot of guys. Eight different players have scored 16 or more in a game with opponents unable to focus on one player to gum up the works. Brody Angley has found his game again while Scott Dougherty has been huge in a starting role while Mitch Henke recovers from an ankle injury. Past teams couldn't survive the loss of a key starter while this squad can easily go 10 deep. Consistent play from a guard off the bench is critical not only for Saturday but for any post season aspirations. There are plenty of candidates who have had their moments in Joey Kaempf, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Rohe. Defensively, Johnson will have to be a factor on Pargo or Bouldin.
--Control the glass. The Broncos are the best rebound margin team in the conference and will not need a super human effort to hang in there on the boards. With guys like Violette and Turiaf, it was not uncommon to see the Zags outboard Santa Clara by double figures. Mallon, Kuso, Pendergraft and Heytvelt are the key bigs for the Zags who outrebound their opponents by 5 per game. The task on the glass will not be limited to the front court players with all 10 on the floor expected to get in the paint to contribute.
--Don't leave Raivio. Santa Clara needs to be able to defend the post without doubling down. If the Broncos have to collapse on Heytvelt, any rotation cannot involve leaving Raivio open. Mark Few calls him the best shooter in school history, but he is not nearly as effective when forced to make plays on the bounce. Pariseau and Angley will have to know where he is at all times. Don't be fooled by the fact Raivio looks like would be carded for a middle school dance. He's a cold-blooded shooter who's proven that he's capable of big numbers at the Leavey Center.
There's a school of thought that says Gonzaga is not what it once was. While there isn't the nation's leading scorer, they have beaten North Carolina (#1 in the nation), Texas and Washington by 20. The recent four-game skid can be forgiven when you look at Georgia, Duke, Nevada and Virginia. They've won over the years on the road and will not be intimidated by a sellout crowd with fans who paint their faces once a year.
Santa Clara isn't what it has been the last couple years: a .500ish team without an inside presence. These guys play the game the right way with no concern for who's putting up numbers. Tristan Parham told me about the commitment they've made to one another for this season and a chance to make it special. They are two wins away from matching last years' win total with at least 14 more to play. A victory Saturday sounds the trumpet that it is "game on".
In meeting with the team's boosters before the season started, each player got a chance to speak briefly about themselves: school major and interests. Pariseau's remarks resonated more than anyone's on that day of greetings and salutations. When explaining why he came to Santa Clara from Eastern Washington, the answer was short and sweet: "Beat Gonzaga".