Gonzaga is in position to clinch a share of its 10th straight West Coast Conference regular-season title.
The 18th-ranked Bulldogs can accomplish that feat and secure the top seed in the conference tournament Thursday night when they try to earn a ninth straight victory over Santa Clara.
Gonzaga (22-5, 10-2) leads second-place Saint Mary’s by one game in the WCC race and owns the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed by virtue of sweeping the Gaels.
Coach Mark Few’s team has again set the pace in the conference with its 13th straight 20-win season. Gonzaga is shooting a WCC-best 49.0 percent from the field and also leads the conference with a 40.7 percent defensive field-goal percentage.
The Bulldogs, though, aren’t taking anything for granted heading into their final two conference games. They had one WCC loss over the previous two seasons before losing twice in 2009-10.
Gonzaga recovered from a 74-66 defeat at Loyola Marymount last Thursday with a 72-54 win at Pepperdine on Saturday.
“That LMU game, we didn’t come out with the same kind of fire we had all season,” leading scorer Matt Bouldin said. “Tonight, we really made a focus to push the ball and to play defense the way we have all season. It really made the difference.”
Bouldin scored 18 points to lead four Bulldogs in double figures. Freshman Elias Harris made 5 of 6 shots for 13 points after shooting 36.4 percent in his previous four games.
“I just challenged them,” Few said. “You can’t approach these games like that. You’re getting everybody’s best shot.”
Gonzaga appeared to get Santa Clara’s best shot Jan. 28 in a 71-64 victory. The Broncos (11-18, 3-9) led by 14 in the second half before the Bulldogs rallied behind Bouldin, who had seven points and three assists in the final 15 minutes.
“In my mind, they have an All-American guard in Bouldin who is not going to get rattled,” coach Kerry Keating said. “He has been through the wars since day one.”
Santa Clara point guard Robert Smith had 13 points and five assists last month against Gonzaga. Smith ranks second among WCC freshmen with 12.7 points per game to Harris’ 15.3.
The Broncos rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half Saturday in a 71-68 overtime loss at home to San Francisco. Marc Trasolini scored a team-high 17 points.
“We need five guys playing hard on the floor at all times,” Keating said. “When we don’t and we have to substitute, we mess up our rotations switching people in and out.”
Santa Clara’s last win over Gonzaga was 84-73 on the road Feb. 12, 2007. The Bulldogs have won 21 of the last 22 meetings.
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