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Gonzaga Basketball

Key matchup: Santa Clara’s Brenton Knapper has Gonzaga’s attention after career-high outing against Bulldogs last month

Gonzaga will rightfully devote much of its attention to Adama Bal after the Santa Clara wing hurt the Bulldogs for 17 points, including the winning basket, during a 77-76 loss to the Broncos last month at the Leavey Center.

Another player should be moving up a few rungs on Gonzaga’s scouting report ahead of Saturday’s West Coast Conference tilt in Spokane (7 p.m., ESPN).

Brenton Knapper’s scoring average (5.9 points per game) may be the lowest of anyone we’ve featured in this space since the season started, but there’s a few data points that caught our eye – and surely caught Gonzaga’s attention – ahead of a highly anticipated rematch between the Bulldogs and Broncos.

The first was Knapper’s stat line against Gonzaga last month. The sophomore guard was a surprise contributor in Santa Clara’s narrow victory, scoring a career-high 16 points while making a career-best four 3-pointers on six attempts.

Knapper rose to the occasion in a few regards. He also posted five rebounds and dished out four assists, one off his career high, to help the Broncos pull off the upset.

The Ontario, California, native scored in single digits each of the next five games – four of them Santa Clara losses – and exited a 71-70 loss to San Francisco with a leg injury.

Knapper was sidelined for two games, but returned to the floor on Thursday against Loyola Marymount, posting the second-highest scoring total of his career in a 65-55 win over the Lions.

The guard finished 6 of 11 from the field and 2 of 4 from the 3-point line to score 15 points, along with four rebounds, three assists and two steals.

“He was tremendous tonight,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said. “BK was diligent in his rehab and fortunately we only missed him for about a week. It seemed like forever, but we missed him for about a week.”

Along with his duties as Gonzaga’s offensive facilitator, point guard Ryan Nembhard will have to make sure Knapper doesn’t get off too many clean looks from the 3-point line on Saturday.

The Santa Clara guard is shooting 39% on the season and is 4 of 7 on 3-pointers in his past two games.