Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 7th, 2014

Looking Back

Where’s the threat? Gonzaga was apparently in a fragile position as last week’s conference play ensued. Archrival Saint Mary’s was coming to town, and Zag starters’ Sam Dower and Gary Bell, Jr. were sidelined with injuries, Kevin Pangos continued to struggle with turf toe, and even gritty former walk-on David Stockton was said to be iffy because of the flu. Panic? Meltdown?

Despite a slew of setbacks, Mark Few and Gonzaga keep on chugging along. (Getty)

Despite a slew of setbacks, Mark Few and Gonzaga keep on chugging along. (Getty)

How about domination? The Zags simply throttled Saint Mary’s, holding the hot-shooting Gaels to a 32 percent field goal performance and a pathetic 1-of-12 from three-point range (supposedly the Gaels’ strength) on the way to a 73-51 romp. Zags’ sophomore Prezmek Karnowski not only got in Brad Waldow’s face, he apparently got in his mind, too, blocking seven shots and holding him to five points and three rebounds.

Gonzaga continued the week with an equally-dominant win over Pacific, 86-64, completing a four-game conference homestand at 4-0 and holding all four teams to fewer than 65 points. The Zags’ injuries? Turns out Dower is okay after injuring his hip against Kansas State; Stockton should contact the medical establishment about a cure for flu; and Pangos limped to 31 points in the two games, playing more than 30 minutes in each. Bell remains sidelined for at least another month with a broken hand, but former subs Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis have stepped up admirably and the Zags seem strong enough to stay atop the WCC.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (14-2, 4-0)
  2. Saint Mary’s (11-4, 2-1)
  3. Pepperdine (10-6, 3-1)
  4. San Francisco (10-6, 3-1)
  5. Loyola-Marymount (10-6, 2-2)
  6. Santa Clara (9-8, 2-2)
  7. BYU (9-7, 1-2)
  8. Portland (9-7, 1-3)
  9. Pacific (9-5, 0-3)
  10. San Diego (9-7, 0-3)

News & Notes

  • The only potentially dark cloud in Gonzaga’s immediate future is the prospect of leaving Spokane for the first time for a short plane trip to Portland and a Thursday match-up against the Pilots, who have made little of their opportunity to open the season at home as the Zags did. Gonzaga is rolling at a peak of efficiency equal to or better than any previous season, and seems unlikely to have its streak of 22 consecutive WCC wins broken anytime soon. Overconfidence is the only malady capable of slowing down this version of Mark Few’s juggernaut.
  • After a routine pasting of NAIA school William Jessup on Monday night, Saint Mary’s settles into a five-game home stretch against mid-tier opponents. Maybe Randy Bennett, who returns to guide the Gaels against San Francisco next Saturday after a five-game NCAA-imposed suspension, can use this period to eliminate the many glitches that have popped up in his team’s play. Inconsistent defense and rebounding, combined with a stop-and-start offense, have hampered the Gaels twice in the early-season going, and reduced their chances for an at-large NCAA bid if they can’t pull off the improbable feat of wresting the automatic NCAA bid from Gonzaga. The brightest spot in the Gaels’ halting play last week, which included a 72-63 win at Portland, was the improvement of Aussie reserves Dane Pineau, a 6’9” true freshman forward, and Matt Hodgson, a 6’11” fifth-year senior post man. Both showed stretches of excellence that could bode well for an improvement in the Gaels’ frontcourt depth.

    s (USA TODAY Sports)

    Anthony Ireland has been a real bright spot for LMU. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Marty Wilson’s Pepperdine Waves could be looking at sharing the WCC lead with Gonzaga except for a woeful second-half performance against San Francisco on Saturday. Leading 27-19 at the half and completely shutting down the Dons’ offense, the Waves gave up 57 points in the second half and lost 76-66. It didn’t help that the Waves’ sharp-shooting guard Malcolm Brooks rolled his ankle just before halftime and didn’t return. Brooks, last week’s WCC Player of the Week, was 4-of-4 with eight points when he went down, and there has been no announcement about his potential return. Another bright spot for Pepperdine was the play of UCLA transfer Brendan Lane in the Waves’ 70-61 victory over Santa Clara. The 6’10” Lane dominated with 27 points and 17 rebounds against the Broncos.
  • San Francisco continues to challenge the axiom that smooth sailing is the best course to success in college hoops, moving to 3-1 with victories over Pepperdine and LMU. No one is raising “Cody who?” signs at War Memorial Gymnasium, but the Dons are rallying behind stalwarts Cole Dickerson (20 points against LMU), newcomer Kruize Pinkins (19 points, 11 rebounds against Pepperdine) and transfer Matt Glover (a double-double – 12 and 11 – against LMU).
  • Loyola Marymount found life outside Gersten Pavilion very unfriendly, dropping both games against Bay Area foes Santa Clara and San Francisco after opening with two wins at home. Senior standout Anthony Ireland was at his best against Santa Clara, scoring 34 points including a jumper with 12 seconds left to force overtime. But Ireland and the Lions ran into an even hotter hand in the extra period, as Santa Clara freshman Jared Brownridge scored five of his team’s first seven points in overtime en route to a 29-point performance of his own.
  • Santa Clara’s 70-61 loss to Pepperdine was a microcosm of the Broncos’ season so far: high-scoring guards Brownridge, Evan Roquemore and Brandon Clark combined for 47 points, while its front court tandem of Jerry Brown, John McArthur and Yannick Atanga accounted for just 10 points, while Pepperdine’s Lane had his way in the paint. Kerry Keating has gone a long way toward replacing the output of departed Kevin Foster with the hot-shooting Brownridge, but the painted area underneath the basket remains a no-fly zone.
  • BYU quietly made one of the most significant moves in WCC play so far this season by benching usual starter Matt Carlino against San Diego in its only game last week. Transfer Skyler Halford started in place of Carlino, and responded with a game-high 28 points as the Cougars bounced back from their 0-2 opening week performance to beat the Toreros 87-53. Carlino ended up playing only a few minutes fewer than Halford (21 to 26), but the symbolic importance of not starting one of BYU’s mainstays for the past three years can’t be ignored. Carlino can be maddeningly inconsistent, forcing bad shots and committing turnovers, so maybe Dave Rose had had enough and is opting for more predictability in his backcourt. It could be just a one-game wake-up call, however, which makes BYU’s upcoming game against Pepperdine even more intriguing. Halford earned WCC Player of the Week honors for his effort against San Diego.
  • Portland salvaged the first win in its season-opening five-game homestand by riding double-doubles from Thomas van der Maars (18 and 13), Ryan Nicholas (17 and 12) and Bryce Pressley (12 and 10) to a 72-64 win over Pacific last Thursday. The Pilots couldn’t capitalize on a Gonzaga-ravaged Saint Mary’s squad on Saturday, however, falling to the Gaels 72-63, and now must face the Zags at home before heading out on the road.
  • Pacific is finding the WCC inhospitable upon returning to the conference in 2013, dropping all three of its first league contests. The Tigers hope for better results in this week’s home games against San Francisco and Santa Clara.
  • Aside from ending BYU’s streak of giving up more than 80 PPG, San Diego has little to remember from its 87-53 loss in Provo. The Toreros are home against southern California rivals Pepperdine and LMU this week.

Looking Ahead

Thursday’s BYU-Pepperdine match-up, which unfortunately is being televised only over the BYUtv network, is interesting for several reasons. For one, BYU has to continue to show the end-to-end effort on both offense and defense that it demonstrated against San Diego last week if it is going to be considered a force in the WCC. For another, Pepperdine has an opportunity to show its opening three-game win streak wasn’t a fluke. The game may well hinge on whether Waves’ guard Brooks recovers from an ankle injury suffered against San Francisco. Also of note: whether Matt Carlino starts his second straight game on the bench.

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