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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-Santa Clara key matchup: Broncos guard Brandin Podziemski enjoying breakout season

Jan. 6, 2023 Updated Fri., Jan. 6, 2023 at 5:52 p.m.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – There wasn’t much fanfare when Brandin Podziemski transferred to Santa Clara after seeing minimal playing time last year as a freshman at Illinois.

Podziemski’s anonymity ended in the season opener. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard had 30 points, nine rebounds, five steals and two assists in an 84-72 victory over Eastern Washington. Three nights later, Podziemski had 34 points, 11 rebounds, six 3-pointers, and three assists in a 16-point win over Georgia Southern.

Podziemski has been outstanding for the Broncos, who were expected to take a step back after talented wing Jalen Williams left school following his junior year and was selected 12th overall in the draft. Santa Clara was picked sixth in the coaches’ preseason poll.

The rise of Williams at Santa Clara was one of the reasons Podziemski left Illinois after playing just 69 minutes in 16 appearances. The Wisconsin native thought he might be able to do something similar to the 6-6, 190-pound Williams in a Broncos’ uniform.

Podziemski’s stats stack up nicely against Williams. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 39.4% on 3s, 50.3% inside the arc, 79.1% on free throws, 8.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 steals. Williams’ final season: 18.0 points, 39.6% on 3s, 55.1% inside the arc, 80.9% on free throws, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals.

Podziemski is tracking as a first-team All-West Coast Conference selection and dark-horse player of the year candidate. Gonzaga’s Drew Timme is the front-runner to repeat as player of the year.

“Super skilled,” Gonzaga junior wing Julian Strawther said of Podziemski. “Shoots the leather off the basketball, super aggressive, scoring almost 20 a game. He’ll be a task, but those are the guys you want to play against.”

The feeling is probably mutual for Podziemski, who rarely leaves the court after watching from the bench most of last season.

The 6-7 Strawther and Podziemski could defend each other at the outset. Santa Clara bigs Jaden Bediako and Parker Braun should match up against Timme and Anton Watson.

The question is what Gonzaga chooses to do against Podziemski and 6-7, 225-pound senior wing Keshawn Justice. Strawther will likely to be assigned to Podziemski or Justice, but that will leave one of the Broncos with a considerable size and strength edge on Rasir Bolton or Nolan Hickman. Backup guard Hunter Sallis will be another option on Podziemski.

Podziemski is a capable scorer at all three levels and his 86 free throws attempted ranks in the top 50 nationally. Gonzaga’s team defense will needed to be dialed in like Thursday’s second-half version instead of the first-half effort that yielded 46 points to the Dons.

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