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Nolan Hickman and His Mean-Mugging Death Stare Eliminate Santa Clara, 81-76

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Here’s another nail biter. His heavyweight fight in the WCC this season ended with another tough finish for him in the Bay Area. The Gonzaga loyal member struggled to show life early on with Reevey his center full of students returning from the Christmas holidays, but Zag nevertheless pulled off the road trip with his two solid wins. I got out.

I’m really stressed about how close these West Coast Conference games started. This league is no joke, so as the great John Rothstein would say, “Get your nitroglycerin pills.” I have a feeling it’s going to be a battle.

Nolan Hickman had the hottest hand of the night and didn’t seem to miss from deep (8-9 FG for 20 points, 4-5 3 points). He was locked up and kept robbing his own bench every time he got out. I don’t know what would have happened to Zags without him tonight.

As for “The ‘Stache”, Drew Timme has officially returned to attacking after a one-game hiatus. The NPOY candidate went 7-15 FG and 6-10 FT where he scored 20 points and had 6 rebounds and he had 4 assists. You can see that his swagger is back. He felt more comfortable on the lower blocks. He feeds on the energy of the crowd on the other side and performs his little fling along with many other mini-celebrations.

The Broncos have their own star when it comes to Santa Clara. Brandin Podziemski (17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) literally does what he wants, when he wants it. It’s safe to say he’s one of the best players in college basketball this season. WCC POY is no rock for his Drew Timme this season. At this early point in league play, it’s a two-man race, neck and neck.

So why is this game so close? Gonzaga defense. It looks like it will become a real debt in March. Opponents are actually exposing missing pieces of armor. It doesn’t even look like a top 100 ranking. To that end, a major adjustment will need to be made by Mark Few in practice over the next few days.

I was once again really impressed with Ben Gregg. He did a lot of the dirty work tonight, helping Anton Watson with an early foul trouble, he’s the team’s most in the half, 8 boards, loose scramble for his ball and dive into the floor. His energetic mentality off the bench will be very important going forward.

Julian Strother cannot be left out (18 points on 6-10 FG, 2-3 3 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds). If his future NBA first-round pick scores more than his 15 points, it looks like nothing but great results could come for Zag. He’s been a really reliable source of offense throughout the first half of the season (I’m mostly alluding to Purdue), except on a few non-conference occasions. If Zag wants to run the West Coast conference, Hot Table, Gonzaga will need a little from him.

That’s all from the San Francisco/Santa Clara Trek, where #9 Gonzaga is 14-3 overall and 3-0 in the league. Relax just a little bit as Zags heads to the always insanely noisy Marriott Center, home of his BYU Cougars. You can catch the action Thursday at 6:30 p.m. PT on ESPN.

Arden Cravalho A Gonzaga graduate from the Bay Area… Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho

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