By Sam McPherson
The Santa Clara men’s basketball team won its opening game in the West Coast Conference Tournament on Friday night in Las Vegas, beating Loyola Marymount, 85-54. Now, the Broncos get to face second-seeded Brigham Young in the quarterfinals. The Cougars handed WCC regular-season champion Gonzaga its only league loss of the season last week.
The Broncos raced out to a 36-22 halftime lead on the Lions in Friday night’s game, paced by Brandon Clark’s 10 first-half points and four rebounds. Jarvis Pugh added eight points and four boards in the first half, as well. LMU shot just 7-for-30 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, thanks to some strong defense from Santa Clara.
The second half was more of the same, as Santa Clara cruised to the victory with ease. Evan Payne scored 29 for the Lions in a losing effort, while Ayodeji Egbeyemi added 14 points. No other LMU player scored more than four points in the game. In fact, only five players total scored for the Lions. Meanwhile, nine different players scored points for Santa Clara, including six players with at least eight points each.
Clark and Jared Brownridge led the Broncos with 19 points apiece. Pugh finished with 12 points, and he also led the team with seven rebounds and six assists in a very nice overall performance. For the game, Santa Clara shot 56 percent from the floor—including 53 percent from three-point range.
Santa Clara (14-17 overall) defeated Loyola Marymount (8-23) three times this year: once at home by three points, once on the road seven points and now this victory on the neutral court in Sin City. On the other hand, the Broncos were swept by the Cougars this year as the two teams prepare for a third matchup Saturday. BYU handily both times, winning by an average of 28 points.
For the season, Clark leads the Broncos in both scoring (15.5 points per game) and assists (3.8 apg). Brownridge adds 15.4 points a game, while Yannick Atanga paces the team with 5.5 boards per contest. Interestingly, Santa Clara started four guards and a forward in this game against LMU—and the team leaders, by far, in minutes played this season are all guards (Clark, Brownridge and Denzel Johnson). If the Broncos are hitting three like they did in this game, they could give BYU a good game on Saturday: Clark and Brownridge combined to hit eight of 13 three-point attempts against LMU.
The Cougars are coming off that big upset of Gonzaga last week, so BYU should be flying high for this game. At 23-8, the Utah school is looking to improve its potential NCAA Tournament seeding—currently projected at a 12 right now, the second-to-last, at-large team in the field according to Bracket Matrix. That seems low for a team that just beat the No. 7 squad in the nation on the road, so the Cougars know they can’t afford to slip up against Santa Clara.
That makes the game all the more tough for the Broncos, in terms of pulling off the upset to extend their season one more game.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.