CIO… the West Coast ConferencePosted by CNguon on February 19th, 2013
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Then There Was One: Gonzaga romped past its most challenging week in WCC play, throttling Saint Mary’s, 77-60, and holding off San Francisco, 71-61, and left little drama for the remainder of the conference season. The Zags have a moderately difficult game in Provo on February 28 against BYU, following what should be two routine wins at home against Santa Clara and San Diego, and one could make a case that BYU will be desperate for a season-saving win. Even if BYU pulls off the upset, however, it will be too late to do the Zags any harm, either to their conference standing or their national reputation. The win over Saint Mary’s gave them an effective two-game lead (the Zags have a final game on March 2 against barely-competitive Portland to bring their conference record in line with Saint Mary’s), and it would take a monumental collapse to overcome that. Not going to happen.
Although it ended in anti-climax with the Zags outscoring the Gaels 21-8 over the last six minutes after Saint Mary’s pulled to within four at 56-52 on a Matthew Dellavedova three-pointer, the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga contest was not without its drama. For one thing the setting was college basketball tension at its best, with a packed and fevered McKeon Pavilion urging on the Gaels. As Saint Mary’s fought back from an early deficit behind Dellavedova’s 19 first-half points, the building seemed about to explode when Jordan Guisti’s three-pointer gave Saint Mary’s its first lead, 33-30, with less than two seconds left in the half. It would have made an interesting scientific experiment: How much noise can a crowd of some 3,500 crammed into a smallish gymnasium create? There was no personal conversation possible, just a wall of ear-thumping sound reverberating in the building.
The Gaels would take a one-point lead into the break after two Kevin Pangos free throws, but in the end it was too much Kelly Olynyk, whose 17 points and seven rebounds do not adequately describe his dominance. Olynyk had his hands on seemingly every rebound, batted ball and misdirected pass in the game, keeping offensive sets alive, disrupting passing lanes and scoring when necessary. He was, literally, larger than life in Moraga and that meant death for the Gaels and their chances of defending their WCC championship of a year ago.
- Gonzaga (12-0, 25-2): The Zags will be forgiven if they were watching for the two national polls on Monday, as they had a chance to move up in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls. They did move up on AP, from five to three, but held at three in the USA Today poll. All of college basketball was watching the Saint Mary’s game to judge the Zags in a difficult situation, and their performance should have removed all doubts.
- Saint Mary’s (11-2, 22-5): All season long Randy Bennett has heard the criticism about a soft non-conference season that left the Gaels’ impressive record in question, and all season he remained silent, confident that a home showdown against Gonzaga would end all the questioning. The Gaels got their showdown, but they failed to deliver a knock-out punch to Gonzaga, so now Saint Mary’s will do the bubble watch until Selection Sunday. Remaining home games this week against BYU and Creighton could restore some luster, but it may take a WCC tournament championship – almost assuredly against Gonzaga again – to assure a ticket to the Dance.
- BYU (9-4, 19-8): Reduced to spectator’s status last week because of their four conference losses, BYU posted a routine 86-72 win over Portland and considered its chances for an NCAA berth. A road win over Saint Mary’s and a home win over Gonzaga would make the WCC tournament interesting for the Cougars, but are they capable of pulling those off?
- Santa Clara (7-5, 19-8): Bouncing back from the edge of irrelevancy, the Broncos held court against San Diego, 61-52, and Pepperdine, 70-60, to move back into the precious fourth-place spot. It’s precious because it assures a first-round bye in the WCC tournament and greatly eases the path toward a possible season-redeeming championship game.
- San Diego (6-6, 13-14): Has the Toreros Express run out of gas? After moving into fourth place last week with a heroic week of beating BYU and Loyola Marymount and losing close contests to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, San Diego seemed in good shape to solidify its position. With only a single game, on the road against Santa Clara, the Toreros had their fate in their hands. They fell apart against the Broncos, however, and now must mount another desperate charge.
- San Francisco (4-9, 11-15): The Dons had one last chance to make their mark on this season, meeting Gonzaga at home following the Zags’ victory over Saint Mary’s. For the past three years San Francisco had punished Gonzaga on its home court, but it was not to be on Saturday. Following a disheartening 78-76 loss to Portland two days earlier, the Gonzaga loss leaves the Dons struggling for a scenario that makes the rest of the season compelling.
- Pepperdine (4-9, 12-14): The Waves eked out a 52-50 win on the road against Loyola Marymount, but couldn’t make it two in a row against Santa Clara. Best news for the Waves is their one-game lead over Portland.
- Portland (3-10, 10-18): The Pilots’ upset of San Francisco on the road may have given them enough momentum to avoid last place in the WCC, a fact tempered only slightly by losing to BYU.
- Loyola Marymount (1-12, 8-18): It was the trap game of the season as the Lions faced Saint Mary’s at home on Saturday following the Gaels’ deflating loss against Gonzaga. But the Lions treated it as just another routine game and routine this year has meant defeat for Max Good’s charges.
- Although the week starts early with a non-conference intrastate battle between BYU and Utah State on Tuesday and a Wednesday game between Santa Clara and Gonzaga in Spokane, the week’s main action moves to Moraga for the second straight week. Saint Mary’s hosts BYU on Thursday night, and the Cougars desperately need to avoid a fifth loss and a challenge from Santa Clara for third place. Regardless if the Gaels escape BYU, they will face Creighton in an ESPN BracketBusters game on Saturday that could definitely bust the Gaels’ hopes for a postseason bid if they lose.
- Santa Clara figures to lose in Spokane, but can get back on BYU’s tail with a Saturday game in Portland. Another team in the third/fourth place hunt, San Diego, reverses Santa Clara’s schedule, with a winnable game on Thursday against Portland and a questionable rematch against Gonzaga on Saturday. The Toreros took Gonzaga down to the wire in San Diego, but will not have many people willing to bet on an upset on the Zags’ home court.
- San Francisco travels to Loyola Marymount on Thursday, where the Lions probably won’t mount much resistance, then hosts Pepperdine on Saturday. The Waves and Dons are tied for sixth place, and this should come down to which team wants it most. LMU finishes out the week with a non-conference game at Cal Poly. Maybe a change from the WCC, where they are 1-12, is what the Lions need.