Gonzaga is back to dominating West Coast Conference games as it comes closer to finishing undefeated in league play. Still, the Bulldogs have yet to top their overwhelming performance against Santa Clara in January.
Following two decisive victories, the 17th-ranked Bulldogs face the Broncos on Thursday night for the first time since routing them last month.
Gonzaga (21-5, 12-0) is two wins away from a third undefeated WCC season in the past six. The Bulldogs secured their ninth straight regular-season title with a 92-58 victory over Pepperdine on Saturday night, two days after blowing out Loyola Marymount 91-54.
“It was a great weekend,” coach Mark Few said. “We played the way we need to play against teams we are better than.”
The Bulldogs won their previous two games by a total of just seven points. They’ve been outstanding for most of the season in a conference they’re expected to thrive in, winning by an average of 21.4 points.
Gonzaga’s largest margin of victory in WCC play this season came in a 95-53 win over Santa Clara (14-15, 6-6) on Jan. 15. The Bulldogs shot 55.4 percent (36-for-65) and had five players score in double figures, led by Austin Daye’s 20.
Gonzaga has won five straight and 15 of its last 16 versus the Broncos and leads the series 40-29. Santa Clara hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs at home since an 84-71 win Feb. 22, 2001, losing eight straight since then.
The Broncos enter this contest having lost two of three and face a tall order against a Bulldogs team that appears hungry.
Few has defended Gonzaga’s accomplishments in the WCC, a league that has had its quality questioned by critics.
“It’s not like anyone else in the Northwest or the West is winning multiple conference championships,” Few said. “It feels great.”
Few’s team owns the nation’s top field-goal defense (36.6 percent) and a strong post presence in Josh Heytvelt. The 6-foot-11 senior had a career-high 28 points and 11 rebounds against Pepperdine.
Heytvelt is averaging 15.0 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He’s complemented by senior guard Jeremy Pargo, who leads the WCC with 5.2 assists per contest.
Against Pepperdine, Pargo moved into fourth place on the Bulldogs’ all-time assists list with 557, passing former Utah Jazz star John Stockton - the NBA career assist leader with 15,806.
Santa Clara point guard Kevin Foster reached his own milestone in a 67-66 overtime loss to San Francisco on Saturday night, breaking Kurt Rambis’ freshman record for points. Foster had 20 in the game to give him 418 on the season, four more than former Los Angeles Lakers standout Rambis had in 1976-77.
Foster leads all WCC freshmen with 14.4 points per game.
While Foster’s matchup with Pargo will be intriguing, the Broncos also have an answer for Heytvelt. Senior center John Bryant is averaging 18.0 points while posting a conference-best 13.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
Bryant had 12 points and 11 rebounds in this season’s first matchup with Gonzaga. Heytvelt had 11 points and six rebounds.