Santa Clara coach buys hotel rooms for students who attend Gonzaga game over winter break

Eager to make sure the Leavey Center is as hostile as possible for Saturday's crucial game against league favorite Gonzaga, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating has made a creative but potentially expensive pitch to students to return from winter break a day early.

Since school isn't in session and on-campus dorms won't open until Sunday, Keating has volunteered to help students who want to attend the game pay to spend Saturday night in a local hotel.

"We need all their energy," Keating told the San Francisco Chronicle after his team's victory over San Francisco on Wednesday night. "And if any of them read this and any of them want to stay here and can't have a room on campus ... I want them to personally call the office and I will reimburse them up to $100 for a hotel room."

A Santa Clara spokeswoman said Thursday night seven students had called the basketball office and accepted Keating's offer as of 6 p.m. Students who will live on campus for winter quarter have until midnight Friday night to claim their $100 hotel credit from Keating, and school officials are expecting more calls throughout the day since their student group, the Ruff Riders, has begun to spread the word.

It's a testament to Keating's passion for his program that he's willing to go to such lengths to give his team the best chance to spring a big upset.

Santa Clara (12-3), which went winless in league play last season after losing top big man Marc Trasolini and star guard Kevin Foster for the year, is one of college basketball's most improved teams these days. The Broncos upset Saint Louis in mid-November, challenged top-ranked Duke on its own floor last weekend and won their WCC opener against San Francisco on Wednesday night to build excitement for the Gonzaga game.

Even though Gonzaga has perhaps its deepest, most balanced team in Mark Few's tenure  this season, the Zags have sometimes struggled at Santa Clara. The Broncos upset Gonzaga at home in 2011, took the Zags to double overtime in 2008 and kept the score competitive in all of their other home games against the WCC's flagship program since 2006.

With Foster among the WCC's leading scorers, Trasolini regaining his explosiveness and point guard Evan Roquemore shooting and distributing efficiently, Santa Clara has enough firepower to threaten Gonzaga. The Broncos will have a sold-out crowd behind them, and, thanks to Keating, a few extra students in attendance.

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