Broncos look to buck recent trend against Zags; Santa Clara has

Broncos look to buck recent trend against Zags; Santa Clara has

Steve Bergum Staff writer

There are some who sincerely believe that Santa Clara coach Dick Davey has the Gonzaga Bulldogs figured out.

Davey, however, is not one of them.

Granted, his Broncos have played GU as tough as anyone in the West Coast Conference in recent years. But Davey is quick to point out that they haven’t beaten the Zags since Feb. 22, 2001 – a span of eight games.

“Our kids always seem to gear up for the (Gonzaga) game and play hard, at least,” said Davey, who is in this 13th season as SCU’s head coach. “But we haven’t gotten the better end of the deal lately.”

Still, the Broncos (7-8) have been close on so many occasions – including last year’s emotionally charged 63-62 loss in the semifinals of the WCC tournament – that confidence, or lack thereof, should not be a problem when they entertain the 11th-ranked Bulldogs (10-2) tonight in the conference opener for both schools.

The game, which will be televised live on ESPN2, tips off at 8 p.m. in sold-out Leavey Center and promises to have a back-alley brawl kind of feel.

“We know their personnel, and we know they’re going to be like they’ve been in the past,” GU sophomore forward Sean Mallon said of the Broncos. “Their big guys are physical, and they’re going to try to bump and bang and throw us off.”

“They play a very physical brand of basketball and challenge your toughness,” GU coach Mark Few added. “Then they kind of spread you out (on offense) and a take a lot of interesting shots.

“And when those things are going in, they’re a handful. Again, you’re talking about a team that has everybody back from the team that took us down to the final basket in the WCC semis. They’re very, very dangerous.”

Third-ranked North Carolina can attest to that, having breezed into Leavey Center on its way to Hawaii in mid-November and suffered a 77-66 setback. So can Stanford, which got drilled by the Broncos 86- 76 just two weeks later.

But Davey’s veteran team, which features a superb backcourt combination of seniors Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey (who averaged a combined 27.1 points, 11 rebounds and 7.3 assists against non- conference opponents), has been wildly inconsistent so far this season.

“And I don’t know why,” admitted Davey, who has watched his Broncos lose their last four games, including home matchups against Central Connecticut State and Yale.

Which means GU will once again come in as a heavy favorite, despite recent struggles against the Broncos.

“They look pretty similar to last year’s team,” Davey said of the Zags, who finished 28-3 overall and 14-0 in the WCC last season, but lost five seniors to graduation. “I’m really impressed by their demeanor as a team. They’ve got a winning attitude, they’re tough- minded, they’re smart and they know how to take advantage of their maturity and intelligence.

“I don’t see many flaws.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Bulldogs can bounce back from last Thursday’s disappointing 63-61 road loss to Missouri, which came less than 48 hours after the Zags had upset No. 3-ranked Oklahoma State, 78-75, in Oklahoma City.

“I don’t think losing at Missouri in the Big 12 (Conference) is necessarily that devastating a defeat,” Few said. “That’s a very talented team and they have a nice home environment there. And they were obviously jacked up to play us.

“You have a tendency to always remember that last game on a road trip, which is unfortunate, because we played so well against Oklahoma State. There were a lot of good things that happened on that trip, and, hopefully, we’ll benefit from them.”

The Bulldogs are led on offense by sophomore Adam Morrison, who is averaging 19.2 points. The WCC announced Wednesday that Morrison was its choice as player of the month for December. Morrison (Mead High) shot 51.8 percent and averaged 5.6 rebounds per game during the Zags’ 7-1 month.

Three other starters – Ronny Turiaf (19.0), Derek Raivio (11.0) and Mallon (10.7) – are also averaging double figures.

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