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Gonzaga tries to continue WCC road mastery against Santa Clara

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 23, 2019, 6:30 p.m.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Ah, road sweet road.

Among the countless streaks Gonzaga maintains is one that doesn’t receive much attention compared to its 20-year NCAA Tournament run or 11 consecutive seasons with at least 25 wins.

The fourth-ranked Zags have won 26 straight West Coast Conference road games, the longest active streak in the country, entering Thursday’s rematch with Santa Clara at the Leavey Center.

At first glance, No. 27 would appear to be a formality, considering Gonzaga trounced the Broncos 91-48 on Jan. 5 in Spokane. History indicates the Zags will face a tougher test at the Leavey Center.

Gonzaga (18-2, 5-0 WCC) throttled visiting Santa Clara 101-52 last season, but the rematch was a 75-60 victory fueled by the combined 49 points of Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr. and Rui Hachimura.

In 2016, the Zags won by two in Santa Clara and by 17 at home. GU won both 2014 regular-season contests, 74-60 at home and 54-52 on the road.

Gonzaga has owned the series with 18 consecutive wins and a 41-4 record under coach Mark Few.

The Zags have won five WCC games by an average of 25.6 points. There are no pressing concerns, but there were indifferent stretches in last week’s victories over Loyola Marymount and Portland. They had defensive lapses and experienced foul trouble against the Pilots. They had to reinsert two starters with 5 minutes remaining after the Lions cut a 29-point deficit to 20.

“I thought (Portland’s) bigs kind of outphysicaled ours a little bit,” said Few, despite his team winning the boards 41-22 and paint points 26-18. “We have it on tape and we can go back and challenge our guys.”

Junior forward Brandon Clarke anticipated a familiar theme as the Zags prepared for the Broncos.

“Defense and rebounding,” Clarke said. “We’re trying to get those defensive numbers down. Our offense is fine. We have so much firepower.”

Santa Clara found that out earlier this month. Clarke and Hachimura combined for 41 points. SCU’s 48 points remain a season low.

Still, the Broncos (11-9, 3-3) are one of the surprises in the WCC in coach Herb Sendek’s third season. They were picked ninth in the preseason poll but sit in fifth. They’re down three projected starters, including All-WCC guard KJ Feagin to a season-ending injury, but they’ve rallied from a 0-4 start to win 11 of their last 16. Eleven wins match last year’s total.

They’ve rebounded with six freshmen/sophomores in an eight-man rotation. They only have eight available scholarship players. Newcomers Trey Wertz, a 6-foot-5 freshman, and sophomore guard Tahj Eaddy, a transfer from Southeast Missouri, form a promising young backcourt.

Eaddy averages a team-high 16.3 points while Wertz is at 12.2 points and 5 assists. Feagin, who played in the first two games, has decided to transfer.

Sophomore forward Josip Vrankic has improved his scoring average (13.2) by nearly three points and rebounding (6.2) by nearly two from his freshman campaign.

Santa Clara has won its last six at home. The Zags are riding a nine-game winning streak.

Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke celebrates his dunk after an assist from teammate Josh Perkins against Santa Clara forwards Henrik Jadersten (3) and Josh Martin, Saturday, Jan. 5. 2019 in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke celebrates his dunk after an assist from teammate Josh Perkins against Santa Clara forwards Henrik Jadersten (3) and Josh Martin, Saturday, Jan. 5. 2019 in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

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