Santa Clara Broncos (1-0) at USC Trojans (1-0)
Head Coach: Kerry Keating (Year 4: 43-54)
Conference: West Coast (WCC)
Stars: G Kevin Foster, F Marc Trasolini
Location: Galen Center
Time: 7:30 PM PDT
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Matchup: USC opened up the season with a solid win over UC Irvine on Saturday at Galen Center, the Trojans were somewhat sloppy with the basketball, but freshman Bryce and Maurice Jones (no relation) played well in their first collegiate games. Furthermore, USC played tough defense and dominated the glass with their height advantage. Though it may not have been the most beautiful game to watch, the Trojans took a step in the right direction towards their ultimate goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Santa Clara arrives at Galen Center for its second contest of the year after beating CSU-Bakersfield at home by the count of 82-77 on Friday. The Broncos failed to limit the Roadrunners offensively. Bakersfield shot 46% from the floor, but ultimately couldn’t pull it out. Santa Clara begins the year with heavy weight on their shoulders. After three uninspired season, Kerry Keating may be coaching for his job. Prior to Keating, Dick Davey, famous for his argyle sweaters, led the Broncos for 16 season before being forced out by the administration looking for a younger coach. In his final season, Davey led SCU to the conference tournament final, where they lost to mid-major powerhouse Gonzaga. Bronco fans had hope after that season, but Keating came in and hasn’t recruited well or turned out good results on the court.
Despite the underperformance, there is reason for optimism in Santa Clara this year. The Broncos return all five starters, including standout guard Kevin Foster. Foster led the Broncos on Friday by netting 19 points in 31 minutes. In the front court, the match up between Marc Trasolini and Alex Stepheson/Nikola Vucevic should be interesting. Trasolini is 6’9″ and turned in a double-double with 10 boards and 17 points. SCU is a team that can shoot the rock well. Four players scored in double digits against Bakersfield and they shot just over 43%. The Broncos can get three-happy on occasion, and that can either be a curse or a blessing. When you shoot the three as often as they do, you live and die with it. If the game is tight late, free-throw shooting may be a problem for the Broncos. They only made 26 of 40 at home on Friday. In a tight ball game down the stretch, the charity strip may not be so charitable.
Inside, USC holds an advantage. Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are taller and more physical than the Broncos are inside. The Trojans used their size to outmuscle Irvine and grab offensive rebounds to give themselves high percentage looks on the second chance shots. USC dominated the rebounding margin and should do the same tonight. With Santa Clara having a weak defense, Maurice Jones should look to penetrate and dish to the open man. Against Irvine, he only penetrated occasionally, preferring to pass from the outside and let someone else work the ball around. Jones will meet a good guard in Kevin Foster, but his ball handling skills should compensate for the size mismatch. Jones wasn’t afraid to dribble in traffic on Saturday, and that fearless play is sure to continue. Look for Bryce Jones to be active as well. The freshman guard shot the ball well Saturday and never passed up an open shot. He was around the glass often and hustled to grab a few offensive boards. If USC plays its normal staunch defense, the Trojans should be able to suffocate the Broncos while taking advantage of their inferior defense.
Much like the Irvine contest, USC should command this game and win. The Trojans are the superior team on paper, and a loss wouldn’t reflect well on their resume come March. Another win would build the confidence of the freshman who will play a prominent role this season.
Today’s game holds special meaning for me. I grew up watching Santa Clara basketball and rooted for them as the team of my childhood. Several family members are alumni, and the playful trash talk has been traded for nearly a month.