SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’d probably make for a good sports reality show: The rise and fall and rise of the Santa Clara men’s basketball team.
The coach, Kerry Keating, is eminently quotable. In a three-season span, the Broncos won 24 games and the Collegeinsider.com Tournament, followed by last year’s winless WCC campaign and now they’re trending upward with a 12-3 record.
Guard Kevin Foster has assumed the top spot on the school’s all-time scoring list. He was suspended for most of the 2012 conference season following his arrest for suspicion of drunken driving. He returned for his senior season, dropped 25 pounds and remains one of the WCC’s most prolific scorers. He torched Gonzaga for 36 points in an SCU win here two years ago.
And forward Marc Trasolini, who suffered a knee injury on SCU’s tour of his native Canada and missed the 2012 season, has produced 15.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
It’s not often a coach survives an 0-16 conference record in his fifth season and returns for a sixth.
“I never worried about it,” said Keating, whose Broncos entertain 10th-ranked Gonzaga (14-1, 1-0 WCC) Saturday night. “I don’t think enough credit has been given to the kids for coming back. Marc had graduated, he didn’t have to come back. Kevin always planned on coming back, he was going to graduate, but we had a group of freshmen- and sophomores-to-be that you never know. It shows the type of character kids we have.”
The Broncos certainly have the WCC’s attention. They led No. 1 Duke early in the second half before falling 90-77. They’re close to being 14-1, but blew second-half leads and lost in overtime to Utah State and UC Santa Barbara.
They start three seniors (Trasolini, Foster and Raymond Cowels). They have three reliable scorers (Foster, 19.1; Trasolini, 15.7; Evan Roquemore, 13.9). They’ve launched 326 3-pointers, 91 more than Gonzaga. Their plus-5.9 turnover margin is easily the best in the WCC. GU is next at plus-2.5.
“They’re going to shoot a ton of 3s at all times from all over the place,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We have to do another good job (defending) that.”
Foster, who is about to crack the top 10 in NCAA history with 982 career 3-point attempts, has expanded his game by averaging 4.5 assists and 2.9 steals. Keating noted that in Foster’s worst three games this season, SCU still won.
Gonzaga has won 25 of the last 27, but the last five meetings at the Leavey Center have produced dramatic finishes.
“We’ve had a shot every year,” Keating said, “and obviously this game is shaping up to be a really good one.”