Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.

Readers’ Take

 

Looking Back

Gonzaga roars back into contention, Saint Mary’s faces the specter of repeated collapse and BYU tells anyone who listening, “Don’t count us out.” It was quite a week in the WCC.

  • The Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s game last Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center on the Gonzaga campus was almost a reverse of their earlier encounter in Moraga in January, an 83-62 Saint Mary’s win. The Zags were the aggressors and the Gaels seemed unable to counter with their usual efficiency and defensive poise. The Zags triumphed, 73-59, behind their all-freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who hit a combined 7-9 from behind the three-point arc and finished with 39 points. The Gaels’ stellar back court of Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt countered with just 20 points, all of them from Dellavedova as Holt threw up an 0-fer on the big stage.
  • The stat that probably registered most vividly in Randy Bennett’s mind, however, was the Zags’ 40-26 rebounding edge, a stunner that countered a Gaels’ strength and contrasted with a 36-33 edge of their own in the previous contest.
  • While all this was taking place in Spokane, BYU had the night off and worked up a head of steam for a Saturday encounter with lowly Pepperdinein the Marriott Center. The result, an 86-48 rout, seemed to position BYU for a stretch run to move them back into contention for a double-bye in the WCC tournament beginning March 1.

    Randy Bennett's Crew Did Not Have Much To Smile About This Past Week (AP)

  • Saint Mary’s bounced back from the Gonzaga loss – its first in WCC play – to handle Santa Clara, 82-67, while the Zags continued on a high note with a 78-59 smackdown of Loyola Marymount, which failed in its effort to move into position for a top-three finish. The Gaels, however, stumbled again last night against a hot-shooting Loyola Marymount team, losing 75-60, and falling into a virtual tie for first place with two losses (the Zags have played two fewer games than Saint Mary’s).

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (23-4, 12-2) is hearing footsteps for the first time in a season that was going swimmingly until Max Good’s LMU Lions dropped by McKeon Pavilion last night. Not only did the Gaels lose the game, but starting guard Stephen Holt left the game with a knee injury of uncertain severity and emerging post man Brad Waldow re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit for large segments of the game. Bennett’s boys could not have had a worse send-off for their Saturday BracketBusters game with Murray State in Murray, KY.
  2. Gonzaga (20-4, 10-2) got its mojo back with last week’s convincing home wins over Saint Mary’s and LMU, but has some work to do before getting ready for another NCAA tournament run. The Zags have stumbled on past trips to the Bay Area, and must face Santa Clara and USF tonight and Saturday before returning to Spokane for what could be a crucial showdown with BYU on Feb. 23.
  3. BYU (21-6, 9-3) faces its first Santa Clara-San Francisco gauntlet starting tonight in San Francisco, and can’t afford any slips if it wants to overtake Gonzaga and make a run at first place. After this week’s games, the Cougars have to contend with a revenge-minded Gonzaga squad eager to reverse an 83-73 loss in Provo that wasn’t as close as it looks.
  4. Loyola Marymount (17-10, 10-4)pulled off the second upset of a team above them on the road (the first was BYU) in throttling Saint Mary’s. There was nothing indecisive about the victory, as the Lions dominated defensively and sparkled offensively. The Lions look ready to roar through the rest of their conference schedule and into the WCC tournament.

    Drew Viney and Loyola Marymount Picked Up A Huge Win Over Saint Mary's Wednesday evening (Getty)

  5. San Francisco (17-10, 7-6) should thank the scheduling gods for the late-season bounty they provided:  home games against BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the last two weeks of the season. What better way to improve their tournament position and put a cap on an up-and-down season? Starting with BYU tonight and Gonzaga on Saturday, Rex Walters has an opportunity to put a big-time stamp on this season.
  6. San Diego (10-15, 5-8) could nurse slight hopes for a .500 conference season with a win over visiting Portland tonight. That would set the Toreros up for a final week on the road against LMU and at home against Gonzaga.
  7. Portland (6-19, 3-9) hits the road this week in a hunt for an improved finish, traveling to San Diego – the team directly above them – on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday. Two wins aren’t impossible, depending on which version of Eric Reveno’s young team shows up.
  8. Pepperdine (8-17, 2-12) has just two more shots at an additional conference win, Saturday versus Portland in Malibu and next Thursday at Santa Clara. Both are doable and would provide some solace for first-year coach Marty Wilson.
  9. Santa Clara (8-17, 0-12) continues to play well, but also continues to lose. The Broncos started strong against San Francisco and Saint Mary’s last week, but eventually lost to both, continuing a season-long problem. Star guard Kevin Foster, the WCC’s leading scorer who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after the Broncs’ Jan. 21 loss to Saint Mary’s, received word he will not be allowed to play in the Santa Clara’s final two games.

Looking Ahead

  • There’s still a lot at stake heading into the conference’s final two weeks: how will Gonzaga and BYU fare on their foray to San Francisco and Santa Clara tonight and Saturday?
  • Will BYU have enough left in the tank to challenge Gonzaga in Spokane on Feb. 23?
  • How will Saint Mary’s handle a long road trip to Murray State in Saturday’s ESPN BracketBusters game? (by flying to Memphis and taking a two-hour bus ride to Murray, KY, that’s how!)
  • Everything points toward the WCC tournament at this point, with the front-runners hoping for a top two finish and a double-bye to the semifinals. Even a fourth-place finish earns a single bye, so there is plenty left to compete for.
  • The final standing of Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU will be determined by the remaining games, so no one is going to coast home.
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