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Santa Clara-Gonzaga Preview

AP - Sports

It feels like a familiar time of year for Gonzaga. Conference play has started and the Bulldogs are winning.

No. 25 Gonzaga looks to continue its dominance of the West Coast Conference when it hosts Santa Clara on Saturday night.

The Zags – picked to win a 12th straight WCC regular season title by the league's coaches – have opened strong again in conference play.

After an impressive 72-65 victory at Xavier that put the Bulldogs back in the Top 25, Gonzaga returned to conference action by beating Pepperdine 73-45 on Thursday for its 21st straight victory over the Waves. It was the Bulldogs' seventh win in a row since consecutive losses to Illinois and Michigan State, their only defeats of the season.

"Our defense was very, very good for 40 minutes tonight," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team held Pepperdine to 28 percent shooting.

Gonzaga (12-2, 2-0) started the second half with a 12-3 run to open a 26-point lead en route to the easy victory. The Zags cleared their bench – 11 players had double-digit minutes – and Gary Bell Jr. scored 15 points to lead the team.

"Coach wanted me to stay aggressive today," said the freshman from Seattle, who came in averaging 8.0 points per game and is known as a defensive specialist.

The Bulldogs won their conference home opener over Portland 90-51 and continue to dominate league opponents, especially at home. Gonzaga is 101-6 at home in WCC play since the start of the 1996-97 season and has only lost one conference home game in nearly five years.

Not surprisingly, Gonzaga has also dominated Santa Clara (8-6, 0-1).

While the Broncos did hand Gonzaga its first-ever loss in the McCarthey Athletic Center in February 2007, that is their only win in Spokane in the last 15 years. The teams split two matchups last season, as Santa Clara won 85-71 at home to snap a nine-game losing streak in the series and record just its second win over the Zags since 2001.

Gonzaga has won 30 of the past 36 meetings, and that dominance is likely to continue with Santa Clara losing three of its last four games overall.

The Broncos lost 84-74 at Portland in their conference opener on Thursday. Santa Clara trailed 64-43 with seven minutes remaining before staging a furious rally that ultimately came up short.

Santa Clara is 0-4 on the road and lost to a Pilots team that had dropped 11 of its previous 12 games, including that 39-point loss to Gonzaga. It was the second consecutive contest that the Broncos had fallen behind big in the second half before mounting a comeback.

They lost on a buzzer-beater to Wagner 64-62 on Dec. 30 in the championship game of the Cable Car Classic, played on Santa Clara's home court. The Broncos rallied from 15 points down in that game, but it wasn't enough for the victory.

Santa Clara has shot just 37 percent on the road this season.

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