CIO… the West Coast ConferencePosted by CNguon on January 16th, 2013
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Killer App: The preseason buzz about Gonzaga’s prospects in 2012-13 centered around the expected emergence of Sam Dower. With the graduation of sturdy post presence Robert Sacre, currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dower would step out of Sacre’s shadow and become the centerpiece of the Zags’ offense. Hasn’t happened.
Kelly Olynyk, who took off last season to refine his game and body, has blown into the WCC season as the conference’s most dominating player since Omar Samhan of Saint Mary’s in 2010 and Adam Morrison of Gonzaga in 2006. With back-to-back 30-point performances in the Zags’ wins over Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s last week, Olynyk underscored the conference’s somewhat belated announcement that he was Player of the Month for December. His stats are impressive enough – 18.1 PPG on 66.2% field goal shooting – but it is his combination of skills that has made him seemingly unstoppable. He combines a guard’s ball-handling ability in a toned seven-footer’s body with a deadly outside shot and an evolving array of post moves and drives down the lane. It’s a combination that no one in the WCC has figured out how to combat.
- Gonzaga (3-0, 16-1): With only one game last week, the Zags were locked and loaded when Saint Mary’s flew into Spokane for an ESPN-featured game on Thursday (January 10). They looked it in an overpowering first half, running up an 18-point lead (46-28) and sending the home crowd into a heightened state of delirium. It was delirium tremens in the second half, however, as the Gaels put up 50 points and moved to within a point at 79-78 with 14 seconds left. With no other option but to foul, however, the Gaels fell short and the Zags prevailed, 83-78.
- BYU (4-0, 14-4): Don’t look now but Dave Rose has his team operating with its usual ruthless efficiency, cruising to a 25-point win over visiting Pepperdine (76-51) and then downing Santa Clara in Bronco-land, 82-64. Tyler Haws continued his blistering scoring pace with 24 points in each win, and three other Cougs joined him in double figures against Santa Clara. Matt Carlino’s bald head is not the only evidence that Rose may have resulted to off-season brain surgery to rein in his free-wheeling ways. Playing with eerie patience, Carlino is forcing nothing this year, evidenced by his 3-of-4 shooting from the three-point stripe against Pepperdine.
- San Diego (3-0, 10-8): That’s right, Bill Grier’s San Diego Toreros have moved into third place in the rankings after topping San Francisco and Pepperdine on the road. The San Francisco game was a nail-biter, with the Toreros prevailing 70-66 after San Francisco closed to 66-63 with 1:14 left. They were in control all the way against Pepperdine, however, with sharpshooting guard Johnny Dee contributing 17 points just as he did against San Francisco.
- Saint Mary’s (2-1, 13-4): The Gaels are not used to looking up at numerous teams, but an early-season visit to white-hot Gonzaga will do that to a team. Saint Mary’s bounced back from the Gonzaga heartbreaker with a solid effort against San Francisco two nights later in Moraga. The Gaels trailed at the half just as they did against the Zags, but it was only by one point, 36-35, and they mounted another strong second half behind Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt and Beau Levesque to prevail, 78-72. It stood at 78-69 with less than a second left but that was enough time for De’End Parker to swish a three-quarters-court heave as the buzzer sounded.
- Santa Clara (1-3, 12-6): It was a bad week for Kerry Keating’s Broncos, as they fell at Loyola Marymount on the road 84-80 after leading by 14 points, then melted in the second half against BYU at home to lose 82-64. The story for Santa Clara is becoming monotonous – they have to find more balanced scoring to complement Kevin Foster’s heroic efforts (19.3 PPG). Guard Evan Roquemore (13.5 PPG) and forward Marc Trasolini (15.5 PPG) are capable, but they sometimes disappear when the Broncos get in trouble.
- Pepperdine (1-3, 9-8): In the first sign that the wheels are falling off a promising Pepperdine season, the Waves dropped two last week, the blowout at BYU and a dispiriting effort against San Diego at home. Marty Wilson’s crew has shown resilience so far this year so it’s not necessarily downhill from here, but they have to get the fire back before things get uglier.
- Loyola Marymount (1-3, 8-9): Another schizophrenic week for Max Good’s crew, as they rallied to top Santa Clara in their conference home opener then lost to winless Portland in the follow-up game. Anthony Ireland continued his scoring tear with 29 against Santa Clara, and the Lions are developing another star in wing man Ayodeji Egbeyemi. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but fans should practice saying it because the 6’4” junior from Lagos, Nigeria continues to post solid games on both ends of the court. He made the Gaels’ Dellavedova struggle mightily for his 17 points in a loss at Saint Mary’s and then held Foster to 11 in the home win.
- Portland (1-2, 8-10): To say Portland needed the road win over LMU is an understatement. They opened league play at 0-2 and few who have followed them this year saw much hope for redemption in a visit to the Lions coming off their first conference victory. To no one’s surprise it was rugged forward Ryan Nicholas leading the way for Portland, scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 boards against LMU. The Pilots are also getting solid play from senior point guard Derrick Rodgers, a defensive specialist who has not shown much scoring punch in his previous years. But with 10 points and nine assists against LMU, he gave the Pilots an unexpected lift.
- San Francisco (0-4, 7-10): Rex Walters has his Dons just where he wants them, winless in conference and losers of nine out of their last 11 games. Seriously, Walters showed some signs of frayed nerves after the Dons lost to San Diego at home, labeling his squad “young and dumb,” but also realizes that his team began last year’s conference race at 0-4. That team righted itself and ended the season at 8-8 in conference and won two games in the WCC tournament. He had four freshmen on the floor at times against Saint Mary’s, and some of them – notably guard Tim Derksen and forward Matt Christiansen – seem capable of becoming solid players in the future. Will the future come soon enough to elevate the Dons this year?
- Things don’t get easier for Saint Mary’s this week as the Gaels hit the road Wednesday for a rematch against BYU, whom they routed 80-66 in a raucous Marriott Center brawl last year, and then fly into Portland Saturday for a date with the Pilots.
- Santa Clara and San Francisco, two Bay Area Jesuit universities with proud heritages, face each other on Thursday on The Hilltop for what should be a bone-rattling rematch. Santa Clara won the first round of this longstanding rivalry, and the Dons are desperate to garner a conference win. This one won’t be for the faint of heart.
- Also needing smelling salts might be Portland, who can barely celebrate its breakthrough upset of LMU because fearsome Gonzaga roars into town on Thursday.
- A busy Saturday finds LMU at San Francisco, San Diego following Saint Mary’s into Provo to battle BYU, Saint Mary’s at Portland and, in an intriguing non-conference match-up, Gonzaga in Indiana for a showdown with fellow mid-major power Butler.