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Zags to face hard-luck Santa Clara

Santa Clara's all-conference guard Kevin Foster has been suspended for the remainder of the season following an arrest for driving under the influence. The Broncos play host to Gonzaga on Thursday.
 (Associated Press)
Santa Clara's all-conference guard Kevin Foster has been suspended for the remainder of the season following an arrest for driving under the influence. The Broncos play host to Gonzaga on Thursday. (Associated Press)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Kerry Keating probably leads the WCC and most of college basketball in coaching adjustments this season. He’d rather it be just the opposite.

Expectations were high for Keating’s fifth season at Santa Clara. Returning were All-WCC guard Kevin Foster, talented senior forward Marc Trasolini, promising guard Evan Roquemore and several others who were part of last year’s rotation.

But injuries, suspensions and disciplinary issues have left Santa Clara at 8-17, 0-12 in the WCC, heading into Thursday night’s game against No. 24 Gonzaga (20-4, 10-2) at the Leavey Center. The Broncos have lost a school-record 13 straight.

“We’ve kind of run the gamut,” Keating said, “and now we’re on the other end.”

Keating was referring to the Broncos winning nine of their last 10 games in 2011 and capturing the CIT championship, as well as a promising 5-2 start to this season that included wins over New Mexico and Oklahoma.

What went wrong? It started with a two-day span in September when Trasolini and British recruit Chris Caird suffered torn ACLs. Trasolini was injured in the opening minutes of SCU’s foreign tour in his hometown of Vancouver, B.C. Caird tore his ACL and MCL while playing in Iceland, less than a week from his expected arrival date.

“You lose two of your oldest players (Caird is 22) … ,” Keating said. “But the guys did a good job of overcoming it, practicing without Marc and playing well without him. It kind of got to the point where it felt they’d be OK and compete and play.”

Santa Clara entered conference play 8-5 and could have easily been 10-3. Foster played in the first five conference games, averaging a team-high 15.6 points. He was suspended following a Jan. 22 arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. It was announced this week that Foster was suspended for the remainder of the season.

In a separate incident on the same morning as Foster’s arrest, Roquemore was cited for having an open container in public. Roquemore didn’t start the next two games, but logged 34 and 37 minutes. Niyi Harrison and John McArthur also were held out of the starting lineup for one game for undisclosed violations of team policy.

“If you look back at the last 10 games of last year, with the exception of Kevin’s normal (scoring) outbursts, Marc was our best player and if you go into the offseason Marc had really came into his own,” Keating said. “So now you’ve got Kevin and Marc and Evan had a good (freshman) season. You build around it, and then you make adjustments (after Trasolini’s injury) to build around Kevin.

“Kevin wasn’t playing great, but now without him midstream we’re making changes.”

Santa Clara has continued to put up points, but its defense – Keating called it “atrocious” – has yielded 82.5 points per conference game. Of SCU’s 10 available players, six are freshmen, including a walk-on.

There have been bright spots. SCU leads the conference in blocked shots (4 per game) and has taken care of the ball (11.6 turnovers per game). Freshman Denzel Johnson went from minimal playing time to 30-plus minutes per game. He has three 20-point games and he scored 17 against Saint Mary’s last Saturday.

Keating doesn’t expect his team to be down for long.

“If you lose one all-conference guy at this level it’s a blow. You lose two and more, that’s really tough to overcome,” he said. “I think the way they’ve handled this and how they’re competing shows a lot about where they can get to.”

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