NCAA Basketball

Santa Clara-Gonzaga Preview

Seventh-ranked Gonzaga has won its past four games by an average of 43.8 points. And now the Bulldogs are adding one of their best players to the mix just in time for West Coast Conference action.

Standout junior forward Killian Tillie is expected to make his season debut Saturday, when Gonzaga looks to defeat Santa Clara for the 18th consecutive time in its WCC opener at Spokane, Wash.

Tillie underwent surgery in late October to repair a stress fracture in his right ankle. He averaged 12.9 points and shot 58 percent from the field last season and was projected to be a candidate for WCC Player of the Year honors this season.

However, Gonzaga (13-2) has thrived while Tillie has been on the sidelines.

Junior forward Rui Hachimura is averaging 21.2 points and has recorded 10 20-point performances. Meanwhile, junior power forward Brandon Clarke moved into the starting lineup and has been superb with averages of 17.1 points and 8.3 rebounds to go with a team-best 47 blocked shots.

Even without Tillie, the Bulldogs beat the likes of Duke, Arizona and Creighton and were the top-ranked team in the nation early in the campaign. Gonzaga's two setbacks came against Tennessee and North Carolina, a pair of nationally ranked foes.

"Everybody can analyze it and overanalyze it," Bulldogs coach Mark Few told reporters of Gonzaga's nonconference showing. "The bottom line is the way those games were stacked up was as tough as anything we've taken on."

The Bulldogs will also have backup senior guard Geno Crandall (broken hand) back in the mix after a nine-game absence. Crandall is averaging five points in six games.

"They've done fantastic in lieu of the injuries we had," Few told reporters.

Santa Clara (9-6, 1-0) has won six consecutive games and eight of its past nine after notching a 68-56 victory over visiting San Diego on Thursday in its WCC opener.

Sophomore guard Tahj Eaddy scored 21 of his career-high 30 points in the first half of the victory while senior power forward Josh Martin collected 13 rebounds. Eaddy is averaging a team-high 16.7 points while Martin (7.3 points, team-high 9.9 rebounds) has registered eight double-digit rebounding performances.

Santa Clara never trailed against the Toreros and built a 25-5 lead prior to the midway point of the first half.

"We got off to a good start, obviously," Eaddy said after the victory. "Our defensive intensity was tremendous. We really disrupted their offense."

Broncos coach Herb Sendek was mighty impressed with Eaddy's effort, which included a 12-of-12 showing from the free-throw line and two of the team's 11 steals.

"My goodness, what a great performance," Sendek said on the team's postgame radio show. "Not only was he sensational on the offensive end, but he was tremendous on the defensive end as well."

Santa Clara's current winning streak includes triumphs over two Pac-12 teams -- Southern California and Washington State -- but the program has traditionally struggled against the Bulldogs. The Broncos have dropped 39 of the past 41 meetings.

Last season, Santa Clara lost 101-52 in its visit to Spokane.

Updated January 4, 2019

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