GAME NOTES: The calendar year may be winding down, but conference play is heating up as the Portland Pilots clash with the Santa Clara Broncos in West Coast Conference action at the Chiles Center.
Both teams lost their conference openers two days ago, Santa Clara bowing to perennial favorite and nationally-ranked Gonzaga on the road, 74-60, while the Pilots tumbled versus San Francisco at home, 87-81, in overtime.
The Broncos, a mere 1-4 in true road games in 2013-14, have now lost two of their last three outings overall and will be tipping off the new calendar year on Jan. 2 versus Pepperdine at home.
The Pilots have the luxury of playing five straight games at home, with meetings against Pacific, Saint Mary's and Gonzaga on tap before they hit the road for a matchup against Loyola Marymount on Jan. 16. With the defeat on Saturday, Portland saw a two-game win streak come to an end.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Broncos are ahead by a 57-30 count, with the team also clinging to a 23-20 edge in games played in Portland. The teams will meet on Feb. 1 in California as well.
With a strong defensive effort in the first half against Gonzaga, holding the host to just 37.9 percent from the floor, the Broncos gave themselves a chance two nights ago, but that was before the Bulldogs let loose with 63.2 percent after the break. Brandon Clark scored 22 points for the visitors on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor, followed by Jared Brownridge and Evan Roquemore with 12 and 11 points, respectively, although the latter did turn the ball over seven times and shot just 1-of-6 behind the 3-point line.
One of two players to have started every game this season, Clark leads the way on offense for the Broncos with 16.3 ppg as he shoots an impressive 82.9 percent at the free-throw line, while Brownridge steps up with 14.5 ppg and has combined with the former to make good on 64 of the unit's 105 3-point baskets. In fact, between the pair, they have five fewer triples than the competition combined at this point.
In a game that featured 14 ties and 11 lead changes, the Pilots allowed San Francisco to knock down all four field goal attempts in overtime and 9-of-15 at the free-throw line in the bonus session. For the game, Portland made a total of only 11 free throws on 19 attempts. Kevin Bailey led the offense with 24 points, followed by Bobby Sharp off the bench with 13 and Thomas van der Mars who tallied 10 points for the hosts.
Scoring in excess of 80 ppg, the Pilots lean heavily on Bailey who is dropping in 17.6 ppg, while Ryan Nicholas (12.8 ppg) provides solid offensive support as well as a huge presence in the paint with 9.2 rpg. Pitching in with another 12.2 ppg is van der Mars as he converts 60.2 percent of his field goal attempts and is also available to lend a hand on the glass with close to 6.5 rpg.
Santa Clara has been very unbalanced on the road to this point and with the Pilots capable of putting up significant points, the Broncos could again be at a disadvantage today.
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