After running the table in West Coast Conference play a season ago, Gonzaga begins its title defense in a home environment that hasn't failed it against league foes in nearly three years.
The 24th-ranked Bulldogs welcome Santa Clara to Spokane on Saturday night seeking their 20th consecutive WCC home win.Gonzaga (10-2) has put together perfect home conference marks in consecutive seasons with its last such loss coming on Jan. 27, 2011 to Saint Mary's. Add in a 27-2 record against Santa Clara since March 5, 2001, and the Bulldogs seem primed to bounce back from last Saturday's 72-62 loss at Kansas State.They might have to do so without Sam Dower. The center and team's second-leading scorer (13.8 points per game) hurt his lower back and missed the second half against the Wildcats. He'll likely be a game-time decision Saturday."I'm feeling better, way better than I did when it happened," Dower told the school's official website. "It was a pretty tough injury, but I'm feeling better and better each day, which is a positive. The X-rays came back negative so nothing is broken."Few's team was held to its lowest point total of the season on a season-low 50 shots, falling victim to Kansas State's methodical pace early and scoring just two points in a seven-minute span late in the second half."The tempo had been at their tempo, but we were able to finally get it up and down a little and get back in the game," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We were in position. But then they made all the plays from that moment forward."Guard Kevin Pangos had 14 points and six assists, and he leads the Bulldogs with 18.3 points per game. He had six points in each game against Santa Clara a season ago.If Dower is out, the Bulldogs might need their 3-point shooting to return to form. They've connected on 29.1 percent in the last three games after hitting 47.6 percent in their first nine."Sam's a great offensive player and obviously has a ton of experience, being a fifth-year senior," Few said. "He's an important cog in the wheel, but somebody or we collectively just need to step up."The Bulldogs recaptured the WCC regular-season and tournament crowns with an 18-0 league record and an average winning margin of 19.0 points last season after losing out on both in 2011-12 to Saint Mary's. Prior to that, they'd claimed at least a share of 11 straight regular-season titles.Gonzaga has won five straight against Santa Clara as well as the last six meetings in Spokane by an average of 31.2 points.The Broncos (7-6) have won four of five after Monday's 66-65 victory over South Florida in the Las Vegas Classic.Brandon Clark led Santa Clara with 12 points, but it was Jared Brownridge's five points in the final minute that secured the win.Clark, a junior, is leading the team with 15.8 points per game, more than doubling his scoring average from last season. He led the Broncos with 14 points in their last meeting with the Bulldogs, an 85-42 loss at Gonzaga.