Checking In On… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on January 26th, 2012
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
- Suddenly there is a fourth guest at the party. Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU had dominated WCC play in the pre-season and until the halfway point of the conference race, but last Thursday Loyola Marymount rudely interrupted their revels. An 82-68 thumping of BYU in a half-full Marriott Center in Provo sent notice that Max Good’s squad is healthy and hungry to compete for a top spot with the Big Three.
- Good is enjoying the benefit of having star forwards Drew Viney (15.9 PPG) and Ashley Hamilton (12.5 PPG) in the lineup at the same time, and is receiving outstanding point guard play from Anthony Ireland (15.9 PPG), who was good enough to win Player of the Week honors in the WCC. Ireland’s line in the LMU win over BYU and a subsequent 74-62 win over Santa Clara was remarkably similar: 27 points and five assists against BYU, 25 points and five assists against Santa Clara. That earned him the Lou Henson Award for National Player of the Week from CollegeInsider.com in addition to the WCC honor.
- The additional factor allowing LMU to separate from its opponents is contributions from other players besides its three leaders: LaRon Armstead, the rugged (6’5”, 200 lbs.) senior forward from Los Angeles, is averaging nine points per game and has been a big factor in the Lions’ success since he recovered from a concussion several games ago. Armstead moved into the Lions’ starting lineup for the first time against BYU and contributed 12 points and six rebounds. Another bruiser from Los Angeles, 6’7”, 240-lb sophomore forward Alex Osborne, has also come on strong lately, racking up nine rebounds and five points in 22 minutes against Santa Clara.
- Saint Mary’s (19-2, 8-0) quietly moved up in the national rankings last week, to #20 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and #21 in the AP poll, thanks to steady wins over Pepperdine at home (61-47) and Santa Clara on the road (93-77) that gave the Gaels their best start in school history. Overshadowed by Ireland’s stellar week was Gaels’ point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who averaged 20 points and six assists in his team’s two wins, including a clinic in the high pick-and-roll against Santa Clara. Time and time again, Dellavedova cruised into the lane against the Broncos and either dropped in runners or found teammates Rob Jones or Brad Waldow for easy buckets.
- Gonzaga (16-3, 6-1) also cruised last week, entertaining San Francisco and San Diego at home, neither of which caused the Zags much concern: a 74-63 win over the Dons and a 77-60 win over the Toreros. The San Francisco game was a coming-out party for the Zags’s JC transfer, Guy-Landry Edi, a 6’6”, 218 wing from the Ivory Coast. Edi, who has been feeling his way on the court following an NCAA-mandated eight-game suspension, broke out for 15 points in 21 minutes.
- BYU (17-5, 6-2) can be excused if it feels the hot breath of Loyola Marymount on its neck following the Lions’ win on its home court. That was the Cougars’ second conference loss and left them just a half-game ahead of LMU for third place with a showdown against Saint Mary’s set for Saturday on their home court. If the Cougars fail to avenge their opening-conference loss to the Gaels, they could be looking up at LMU instead of down. BYU might get a confidence boost from its 70-68 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, in an unusual Wednesday night game.
- Loyola Marymount (12-8, 5-2) won its fifth straight road game on Monday by dumping Santa Clara at the Leavey Center. That its two losses have come at home might be troubling the Lions a bit, but otherwise they should be feeling good awaiting tonight’s crucial contest with Saint Mary’s on their home floor. Good has all hands on deck, including dangerous shooting guard Jarred DuBois (10.3 PPG), who played 15 minutes against Santa Clara after missing several games with a concussion of his own. It’s an abundance of riches for the Lions, who have played games without Viney, Hamilton, Armstead or DuBois this season, and gives Good the challenge of juggling 11 players to find the right combination.
- San Francisco (13-9, 3-5) is perched on the dividing line between a meaningful season or rueful questioning about what went wrong. A third-place finisher in 2010-11 with a 10-4 league record, the Dons find themselves treading water as Loyola rises. They split last week, rebounding from the Gonzaga loss to eke out a 72-71 road win over Portland, and have winnable games this week against Santa Clara on the road and San Diego at home. If the Dons rally to move to 5-5 in conference play and LMU stumbles against Saint Mary’s and/or Portland, their hopes will still be alive.
- Tie, San Diego (7-12, 2-5) and Portland (5-15, 2-5). San Diego would seem to have the edge on breaking the tie with games against Pepperdine at home and San Francisco on the road, while Portland entertains Gonzaga tonight in a game televised on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Pacific. The Pilots then have to travel to Los Angeles to take on LMU, so they’ve got a harder path to break out of a season-long funk.
- Pepperdine (7-12, 1-7) can claw even with San Diego by taking out the Toreros on the road tonight, then entertain reeling Santa Clara on Saturday. The Waves have shown such ability only in fits and starts this season, however, so nothing is a given.
- Santa Clara (8-11, 0-6) is in free fall. Following its spirited upset attempt against Saint Mary’s on Saturday, the Broncos’ star guard Kevin Foster got himself arrested for Driving Under the Influence. At a different time that evening, Foster’s back court mate Evan Roquemore took a bust for having an open container of alcohol. Foster was suspended for the Broncos’ game against LMU, while Roquemore and several of his teammates were held out of the starting lineup for the LMU game. Subsequent action by the Santa Clara student judicial process renders Foster’s availability for games this week uncertain.
- Saint Mary’s at Loyola Marymount, Thursday, Jan. 25 (7 P.M. Pacific) – The spotlight shines on Gersten Pavilion on the campus of LMU tonight, as Saint Mary’s and LMU meet in a game to decide whether the Lions are a contender or a pretender. Saint Mary’s comes to town with a nine-game winning streak, including several years’ history of running pool against the Lions. But LMU has a five-game streak of its own, plus the confidence of toppling BYU in Provo, which almost never happens. Are the Lions a bunch of freakish road warriors or are they serious challengers for a WCC title? Are the Gaels road-averse (4-1 in true road games against mostly weak competition) or gearing up for a dominating stretch run?
- Saint Mary’s at BYU, Saturday, Jan. 27 (6 P.M. Pacific, ESPNU) – That last theory above will be doubly tested on Saturday, as Saint Mary’s flies from Los Angeles to Provo to face BYU at the Marriott Center. There is little doubt that 22,000 fans will greet them with a spirited reaction to the Gaels’ rude introduction to WCC play back on December 29 – a 98-82 smackdown of BYU that injured the Cougars’ substantial pride. All other games on the WCC schedule pale in comparison to the Gaels’ two-game road journey. Only the BYU game is televised, but a lot of fans of Saint Mary’s and LMU will be picking up Internet feeds tonight.