GAME NOTES: The red hot Santa Clara Broncos return home to the Leavey Center to tangle with the Portland Pilots in a West Coast Conference matchup.
This will be the first of two meetings this season between these league foes. Santa Clara holds a 55-30 all-time series edge despite falling in its last four bouts with the Pilots.
The Broncos should fare much better this season than the team that finished winless in WCC action a season ago. They collected their fourth consecutive win on Saturday by coasting to a 64-50 win over San Diego on the road to arrive at a 16-6 overall record. During their four-game winning streak, the Broncos have held opponents to an average of 54 points a game and 37.2 percent field goal shooting (71-of-191) while scoring 74.5 points a game. Three of the four victories have come by double-digit margins with two coming by 30 or more points. Santa Clara has a pair of tough opponents in BYU and Saint Mary's awaiting in February, making a triumph in this one vital.
Marc Trasolini tallied 23 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks his last time out to help SCU down the Toreros. Evan Roquemore scored 18 points, and Kevin Foster chipped in 15 points and five assists as the Broncos connected on 42.0 percent of their shots from the field and limited USD to 37.5 percent shooting. Foster is the third leading scorer in the WCC at 19.4 ppg, but Trasolini's return to the squad after missing all of last season due to injury has been the catalyst to the turnaround. The senior forward provides an inside presence and contributes 15.5 points, 8.2 boards, and 1.8 blocks per tilt. Roquemore is holding his own in a league filled with elite point guards with 13.1 points and 6.2 assists per outing.
The visiting Pilots are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Portland was handed its fourth loss in a row on Saturday when it dropped an 85-67 decision to BYU at home. The team is tied for last in both overall wins (eight) and conference victories (one) with Loyola Marymount entering Thursday. The Pilots, who are the lowest scoring team in the WCC (60.8), hit 46.9 percent of their field goal attempts and exceeded their scoring average by several points against BYU, but they also allowed the Cougars to make 31 of their 60 field goal tries (51.7 percent). BYU was just the fifth team to make more than 50 percent from the floor versus the Pilots.
Ryan Nicholas paced Portland with 16 points and 11 boards, while Kevin Bailey netted 12 points in the setback. Nicholas, who averaged team highs of 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds last season, is again leading the squad in scoring (13.3), rebounding (9.5) and double-doubles (seven). Bailey is the only other Pilot averaging double figures at 12.1 points per game.
Portland is in rebuilding mode with just one senior on the roster this season. The Broncos may be the most improved team in the nation, but while they should be able to survive this one without much trouble, their tough road ahead will be a true test of how far they have come.
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