I'll just go ahead and say in advance that the most awesome part of this game was the first half, when a portion of Santa Clara's student section would chant "Airball... Airball... Airball..." every time Matt Glover touched the ball on offense. So glad this went on the entire game.
The first time these two teams met, Jared Brownridge got his to the tune of 30 points, including five three point baskets, but that was nearly half his team's production in a 75-66 win. You might assume another fairly easy USF win, but this is the West Coast Conference, where every game is hotly contested and no road game is guaranteed. Gonzaga and BYU both lost at Portland, and the Cougars also lost at Pepperdine and Loyola. Anything can happen.
One good way to have a bad night defensively is to face a team that has multiple dangerous outside shooters and regularly either lose track of those shooters or not close out aggressively enough. Another way is to finally start contesting those shots and get beat off the dribble, then get no help from your teammates until it's too late. San Francisco accomplished both these feats with regularity in the first half, which is why they only led 35-33.
Brownridge and Jalen Richard combined to shoot 5-for-11 from long range for the Broncos and combined for 17 points, which pushed Santa Clara (11-16, 4-10) to an eight-point lead late in the half. Fortunately the Dons have Kruize Pinkins, who was able to capitalize on SCU's poor post play to rack up 14 points (almost half of that from the free throw line) and fuel an 11-1 run to close the half.
The Dons came into this game with a 7-4 record since Pinkins entered the starting rotation - even more crucial with Tao Xu abruptly leaving the team this past week to go back and play pro ball in China. During that time, Pinkins has averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. However, two of those four losses came in the Dons' previous three games, when Pinkins managed a total of 13 points and eight rebounds against Gonzaga and BYU, largely due to foul trouble.
This time, Pinkins had no such difficulty. He snagged a couple more easy baskets, as that 11-1 run became a 17-1 run while the Broncos managed to go the first five and a half minutes of the second frame without a point, let alone a basket. USF clamped down on the paint to start the half, and Santa Clara stopped trying to penetrate, settling for low percentage jumpers.
You don't have two of the five best scorers in the conference and stay down for long, though, and two minutes later the game was tied at 41-41 and got a little sloppy for both teams. By the under-twelve media time out, the two teams were a combined 5-for-26 from the field in the half.
Pinkins' established presence in the game kept the Broncos' bigs in foul trouble and unable to get any kind of rhythm. Unfortunately, it was the Santa Clara guards doing all the scoring, and USF struggled mightily to stop that group for any stretch of time.
Richard left some slack on offense, but Brandon Clark gladly picked it up for him, and San Francisco couldn't decide whether to stop Clark or Brownridge and wound up not shutting down either of them. Clark, Brownridge, Richard and Evan Roquemore, all guards, scored 15, 14, 11 and 11 points respectively.
However, it wasn't sufficient in the end. Pinkins' career high 26 points paced the Dons, capped by an angry two-handed jam to beat the press. Add in 13 points and 14 rebounds for Cole Dickerson, and it was just enough for a victory.
The Dons now host Saint Mary's with a chance to take sole possession of third place in the standings. They may not be the best team in the conference, but if Pinkins can play more like this on a nightly basis to take pressure of Dickerson and the rest of the offense, they will be very dangerous throughout the postseason.
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