Checking In On… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2012
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
- Holding serve was the key note last week, as Saint Mary’s slapped down the second of its main competitors for the WCC title, Gonzaga, by a convincing 83-62 margin in Moraga. That followed the Gaels’ first-week trouncing of BYU by 98-82, also at home. Playing the cards dealt to them by an unbalanced conference schedule, the Gaels now have a one-game edge on both rivals before facing them on the road.
- For Saint Mary’s, the nine-team schedule – reflecting the addition of BYU to the ranks – was front-loaded with rivals (and home court-loaded as well). Gonzaga and BYU, on the other hand, have yet to face each other and both had to travel to Moraga for their initial showdown with the Gaels. The WCC held on to its true round-robin form, however, so each team plays each other twice, meaning Gonzaga and BYU will have their shot at revenge. The Gaels travel to Provo on January 28 and to Gonzaga on February 9; BYU and Gonzaga tangle in Provo on February 2 and in Spokane on February 23.
- Everything that has transpired in the first three weeks of conference play indicates that the league championship and seeding for the March 1-5 conference tournament in Las Vegas will be determined by those three teams.
- Saint Mary’s (17-2, 6-0): The key matchup in Thursday’s game with Gonzaga was supposed to be in the frontcourt, where the Zags’ trio of Robert Sacre, Sam Dower and Elias Harris was reputedly superior to the Gaels’ mixed bag of post players along with stalwart power forward Rob Jones. Sly ol’ Randy Bennett, however, had been tinkering with his post players throughout the pre-conference schedule and by league time had it figured out. The three-headed contingent of redshirt freshman Brad Waldow (6’9”), senior Kenton Walker II (6’9”) and junior Mitchell Young (6’8”) outscored and outrebounded Sacre and Dower by an overwhelming 31 points and 17 rebounds to 12 points and eight rebounds. Harris did have a decided scoring edge on Jones, 17-2, but they were even in rebounds with 11 each and Jones dished out eight assists. Big front court advantage to the Gaels, who also came out on top in the backcourt with outstanding games from junior Matthew Dellavedova (26 points, six assists) and sophomore Stephen Holt (13 points, six assists). For his efforts against Gonzaga, San Francisco and Portland last week – averaging 20.7 points per game and 6.3 assists per game, while shooting 55% from the field and 50% from three-point range – Dellavedova was named WCC Player of the Week. With TV audiences treated to numerous shots of Delly’s mom, dad and two adoring sisters looking on in support, other teams might be considering the value of having parents around for long stays – even if they hail from Australia. Saint Mary’s was rewarded as a team also, as both national polls had them ranked for the first time this year – #23 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and #24in the AP Poll.
- BYU (16-4, 5-1): smacked down two lower-tier WCC opponents, topping Santa Clara at home in a 95-78 shootout, then making its first appearance in the Jenny Craig Pavilion at San Diego to beat the Toreros, 82-63, on Monday night. Against Santa Clara, BYU’s talented trio of Matt Carlino, Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock combined for 65 points to tame the Broncos, who came into Provo with the idea of beating BYU at its own fast-paced, high-scoring game. Even with strong efforts by high-scoring guard Kevin Foster (22 points), Niyi Harrison (18 points) and Raymond Cowels III (14 points) and Evan Roquemore (11 points), however, Santa Clara couldn’t match BYU’s firepower. It was more of a grinder against Bill Grier’s gritty Toreros, but BYU still rolled to its fifth-straight WCC win following the opening loss to Saint Mary’s. The Cougars also finish their conference schedule against San Diego.
- Gonzaga (14-3, 4-1): rebounded from the Saint Mary’s defeat with a close, 62-58, win over Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. Harris again came up strong for Gonzaga, leading the game in scoring with 19 points, while freshman guard Gary Bell, Jr., rebounding from a sub-par effort against Saint Mary’s (6 points on 2-7 shooting), chipped in with 16 points. The win was not a sure thing for the Zags, who found themselves ahead by only one point, 58-57, after a dunk by LMU’s Ashley Hamilton with under two minutes to play. LMU’s other outstanding forward, Drew Viney, missed a subsequent leaner, however, and the Zags rebounded and found Harris for a baseline layup that made it 60-57. Free throws decided it down the stretch, and Gonzaga fans exhaled loudly. The Zags can enjoy some home cooking this week, with home games against San Francisco and San Diego.
- Loyola Marymount (10-8, 3-2): doesn’t have results in the win column yet, but it has battled both BYU (L 73-65) and Gonzaga (L 62-58) to the wire in early-season contests, and has reason to hope for an even stronger performance in the second half of the conference race. The big question mark for LMU has been the health of its players, as it seems every starter or potential starter has gone down at some point this season. Even in last week’s Gonzaga game, Max Good had his two star forwards, Viney and Hamilton, together for only the second time this year (and valuable reserve LaRon Armstead played his first game free from the results of a concussion). Sounds good, but starting guard Jarred DuBois didn’t play against Gonzaga because of a concussion of his own (what are they doing at Lions’ practices?). No word on DuBois’ condition, but Good will have Viney and the rapidly-improving Hamilton ready for tonight’s re-match against BYU in Provo.
- Portland (5-13, 2-3): enjoyed its winning conference record for only a week, as road losses to San Francisco (104-70 – Ouch!) and Saint Mary’s (69-61) dropped its league record to 2-3. That the Pilots are young, with a preponderance of freshman and sophomores, was evident in the game against San Francisco when the youngsters evidently forgot they were supposed to play defense. They “held” the Dons to 72% three-point shooting and committed 21 turnovers to boot. Eric Reveno didn’t let his troops get down, however – maybe they were exhilarated a weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area – and they bounced back smartly against Saint Mary’s. Against the backdrop of the Gaels’ front court dominance of Gonzaga, Portland’s duo of Ryan Nicholas and Thomas van der Mars combined for 34 points in the paint. And the Pilots cut down their turnovers – to 20.
- San Francisco (12-8, 2-4): went in the opposite direction of Portland, racking up two straight wins after its puzzling 0-4 start. Following up the rout of Portland, the Dons avenged its opening-week loss to Pepperdine by subduing the Waves 78-63 at home behind a strong second-half performance by guard Michael Williams (17 points, 15 after the intermission). More importantly for Rex Walters’ troops is the fact that five Dons scored in double-digits against Pepperdine, the same number as in the Portland blitz. Do the Dons have it going to make a run at LMU for fourth place? Road games this week against Gonzaga and Portland will go a long way to determining that.
- San Diego (6-11, 1-4): has found it tough to get a second conference win to go along with its surprising 75-62 road victory over Santa Clara, but Grier may have found a front court force in the Toreros’ most recent loss to BYU. Sophomore Dennis Kramer, a 6’10” forward from nearby La Costa Canyon High School in Encinitas, finally decided to bang with the big boys inside and may have found he likes it. Kramer, who has heretofore seemed to prefer hoisting threes far away from the paint, finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks against BYU. More significantly, he helped hold BYU’s star post man Davies to 12 points and 12 rebounds, a far cry from Davies’ earlier effort against the Toreros – 20 points and 22 rebounds. Grier has a knack for discovering gems right under his nose, as Kramer matches hot-shooting Johnny Dee – who had 12 against BYU – as a local recruit (from Vista, CA). Maybe San Diego should limit Grier’s recruiting budget to force him to look even harder for local stars.
- Pepperdine (7-10, 1-5): Move over, hot-shot freshmen guards in the WCC and make room for Pepperdine’s Jordan Baker. Pepperdine, like San Diego, is stuck on one win, but the loss to San Francisco didn’t stop Baker from blasting away for 26 points. Since moving into the Waves’ starting lineup, Baker has scored in double figures in all six games, making my prediction of him as the WCC Newcomer of the Year seem more realistic. Other headliners Kevin Pangos and Bell of Gonzaga, Dee of San Diego and Carlino of BYU have kept Baker in the shadows of publicity, but his game speaks for itself.
- Santa Clara (8-9, 0-4): continues to try and find a formula for winning in the conference. Trying to match BYU basket for basket didn’t work too well last week, so maybe Kerry Keating will try a new approach this week with Saint Mary’s and LMU coming to the Leavey Center. Re-discovering the defensive intensity provided by the departed Troy Payne and Ben Dowdell might be part of the solution.
- This week will reveal a lot about LMU’s ability to challenge the league’s top three teams, as the Lions venture into the unfriendly confines of the Marriott Center in Provo, UT tonight to try and offer BYU some competition on its home court.
- Then, LMU travels to Santa Clara for a Monday night face-off with one of the teams that figured to compete with it for a top four finish. Ashley Hamilton is coming off a monster game against Gonzaga, and the matchup between him and BYU’s Hartsock will be worth watching. If Hamilton and LMU’s two-man post team of Godwin Okonji and Alex Osborne can hold Davies in check, the stage might be set for Viney to have a breakout game. The sweet-shooting Viney has been hampered by foot troubles this year, and didn’t help his team much in the close loss to Gonzaga: six points on two-for-10 shooting. He’ll want to do better tonight.
- Saint Mary’s finishes a four-game home stand tonight against Pepperdine, then rolls down I-680 for a Saturday match-up with the struggling Santa Clara Broncos. This is one of the pot holes the Gaels must bypass if they want to keep ahead of BYU and Gonzaga in the standings.