CIO…the West Coast ConferencePosted by CNguon on January 8th, 2013
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
- The Week That Was: It began on New Year’s Eve in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in the packed Gallagher-Iba Arena that is home to the #22 Oklahoma State Cowboys. A tidy 69-68 win behind a clutch three-point shot by Gary Bell with 35.7 seconds left, followed by a pair of free throws by Bell’s backcourt mate, Kevin Pangos, sent the Gonzaga Bulldogs 1,400 miles west on New Year’s Day in advance of a January 3 conference-opener against Pepperdine. After hanging around Malibu for three days, the Zags dispatched the Waves 78-62 before 2,000 somewhat interested spectators, then headed up the California coast where an aroused Santa Clara Bronco squad was waiting on Saturday. The Broncos were fresh off a hard-fought 74-69 win over Bay Area rival San Francisco and still stoked over hanging with Duke in their last non-conference game (Duke eventually won 90-77). Santa Clara at least had the courtesy to provide a record-breaking Leavey Center crowd of nearly 5,000 screaming fans, and battled the Zags harder than the spunky Waves before succumbing 81-74 despite Kevin Foster’s 29 points. “It was a great road trip,” commented Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Probably the best I’ve ever been on in 25 years.” While some might question Few’s choices for New Year’s week recreation, it left no doubt that the Zags are poised to reclaim the WCC title they held for 11 straight years before surrendering it last year.
- Conference Shopping: Few had stirred up his WCC colleagues in the non-conference period by musing out loud whether the Zags might have to take some protective action in case the turmoil among BCS football institutions should infect basketball. His comments came in the wake of the decision by seven Big East Catholic colleges to withdraw from that conference and establish an all-basketball league composed of themselves and a group of as-yet-unnamed like-minded schools. A Gonzaga official let it be known that the Zags were willing to join the Catholic Seven, but so far they haven’t been invited. The Zags’ outstanding non-conference record, however, sheds some light on why the Zags might feel the WCC is beneath them. The victory over Oklahoma State gave them a five-game sweep of Big 12 competition, following other wins this year over West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor. The Big 12 is a power conference while the WCC is an up-an-coming mid-major league, and maybe Gonzaga thinks it has outgrown the small arenas in places like Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s.
- Gonzaga (2-0, 15-1): It was business as usual for the Zags, even though both Pepperdine and Santa Clara provided some anxious moments. The Waves held Gonzaga to 43.4% shooting and even led 36-35 with 14 minutes left, but just didn’t have the troops to stave off a 78-62 loss. The Waves took some comfort from the 22 minutes played by Jan Maehlen, at seven-feet plus and 300 pounds plus the largest body in the WCC since Brad “Big Continent” Mallard at Saint Mary’s in the 90s. Although Meahlen was credited with only four points and a single rebound, he clogged up the middle enough to help contain the Zags’ rampaging center Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk, who has been overpowering in recent games, totaled a career-best 33 points in the Zags’ win over Santa Clara, highlighting the Broncos’ woeful lack of a post presence.
- BYU (2-0, 12-4): Just as it seemed BYU had solved its back court production problems with Matt Carlino’s 21 points, including 4-of-8 from three-point range, in its conference-opening 92-51 blowout of Loyola Marymount at home, the Cougars demonstrated post problems in squeaking by San Francisco 80-76 on the road two nights later. Brandon Davies, who along with swing man Tyler Haws has been the cornerstone of BYU’s offense this year, managed only six points and two rebounds against a San Francisco team that makes Santa Clara’s post presence look awesome.
- Saint Mary’s (1-0, 12-3): It was a routine home conference opener for the Gaels, who held off a determined LMU squad anxious to erase the memory of its stinker in Provo by 74-61. Randy Bennett’s tinkering in the post continues, as junior transfer Matt Hodgson logged 20 minutes compared to starter Brad Waldow’s nine, and had his most complete game as a Gael. Seven points, three rebounds and a block won’t bring the NBA scouts to Moraga, but it was the most comfortable the long-armed 6’11” Hodgson has looked so far this year.
- Santa Clara (1-1, 12-4): Kerry Keating was so anxious to maximize the home crowd advantage against Gonzaga that he offered to pay any vacationing Santa Clara students $100 to offset hotel expenses since the dorms were still closed. It wasn’t necessary, as Santa Clara mustered a boisterous crowd to greet Gonzaga. If only Keating could provide sufficient incentive for his front court players to show up for games. As well as Santa Clara has played this year, no one beside outstanding guards Foster and Evan Roquemore and forward Marc Trasolini has made a dent. Robert Garrett, Yannick Atanga and John McArthur managed two points among them against Gonzaga, and that won’t cut it.
- Pepperdine (1-1, 9-6): How long is Pepperdine going to hold this position, ahead of teams such as Loyola Marymount and San Diego which were considered its superior? Hard to say, but the Waves just keep on battling, giving Gonzaga fits before fading in the stretch and then holding off Portland 54-47. Both games were at home, and maybe the Waves won’t travel well, but this has proved to be the gutsiest WCC team in the early going.
- San Diego (1-0, 8-8): The Toreros got sparkplug point guard Chris Anderson back from a bout with the flu and it was enough to top struggling Portland 61-50. Anderson, who missed San Diego’s final non-conference game, totaled 14 points and an improbable six rebounds – he’s all of 5’9” – to lead his team.
- San Francisco (0-2, 7-8): Rex Walters thought he had found the tonic to get the Dons rolling after a tough opening loss to Santa Clara: ambush BYU as the Cougars were riding high after their pasting of LMU. It almost worked, as the Dons jumped out to an early 14-point lead and were still ahead by seven at the 15:19 mark in the second half. BYU, led by Haws and Carlino with 22 each, went on a run, however, and the Dons were forced to make a desperate last-minute rally that fell short.
- Loyola Marymount (0-2, 7-8): LMU was a road warrior last year, winning seven conference games in opponents’ gyms, including inflicting the only home loss on Saint Mary’s. Not the case so far in 2013, as the Lions were embarrassed by BYU and, although fighting harder two nights later in Moraga, dropped another to Saint Mary’s. To say the Lions miss the graduated Drew Viney and transferred Jarred DuBois, who is starting for Utah, is an understatement. Heralded freshman Nick Stover has given them nothing and second-year forward C.J. Blackwell, who was the most likely contender to fill Viney’s shoes, is redshirting this year because of injury.
- Portland (0-2, 7-10): Just as the Zags’ week was exhilarating, Portland’s was dismal. Road losses to San Diego and Pepperdine, two bottom-tier teams, didn’t offer the Pilots much hope for a successful conference run.
- The Saint Mary’s ongoing post repair project runs into Gonzaga’s intimidating corps of lane dominators led by Olynyk, Elias Harris, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski in an early showdown in Spokane on January 10. Actually, it’s been mostly Olynyk and Harris, as the former’s dominating early conference play – 49 points in two games – has rendered Dower mostly an afterthought and Karnowski a dream for the future. Saint Mary’s counters with its outstanding guard corps, which Bennett has been utilizing in a four-guard configuration since the Harvard game. Do-everything point Matt Dellavedova, defensive hawk Stephen Holt, silky smooth transfer James Walker III and streaky Jorden Page offer the Gaels’ best hope of upsetting the rampaging Zags.
- Other Thursday night games this week find Pepperdine at BYU, San Diego at San Francisco and Santa Clara at LMU.
- On Saturday, Saint Mary’s returns home to host San Francisco, BYU travels to Santa Clara, Portland is at LMU and San Diego travels to Pepperdine.