Checking In On… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 23rd, 2014

Looking Back

Things are beginning to have a more familiar look as the WCC season passes the one-third mark: Gonzaga on top, with BYU and Saint Mary’s trailing closely behind. Early-season pretenders such as Pepperdine and San Francisco have been knocked back, if not out, and BYU seems to have overcome its first-week stumble into losses at Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount by rattling off five straight wins.

Rumors of Mark Few and Gonzaga leaving the WCC keeps getting louder and louder (AP)

It’s been business as usual for Mark Few and Gonzaga, who have once again performed at a championship level. (AP)

  • Gonzaga has gotten Sam Dower Jr. back and is successfully integrating Louisville transfer Angel Nunez into its offense. Only the return of Gary Bell Jr. from a broken wrist keeps the Zags from fielding the team it envisioned at season’s outset.
  • Saint Mary’s has Randy Bennett back at the helm after a five-game NCAA-imposed suspension, and the result has been two wins at home. The Gaels hope to welcome Garrett Jackson back this week after several weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, which will give Beau Levesque some support at power forward.
  • All the leaders seem set for the next part of the season, therefore, and only one game separates BYU and a game-and-a-half separates Saint Mary’s from the Zags. Let the games continue.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (16-3, 6-1)
  2. BYU (13-7, 5-2)
  3. Saint Mary’s (14-5, 4-2)
  4. San Francisco (12-8, 5-3)
  5. Pepperdine (12-8, 5-3)
  6. Portland (11-8, 3-4)
  7. Santa Clara (10-11, 3-5)
  8. San Diego (11-9, 2-5)
  9. Loyola Marymount (10-10, 2-6)
  10. Pacific (10-7, 1-5)

WCC News & Notes

  • Dower celebrated his return to the Gonzaga starting lineup with two monster games in Southern California, an effort that won him WCC Player of the Week honors. Dower was a perfect 7-of-7 against Pepperdine, which had a chance to take over first place in the WCC with a win, and added eight rebounds to his 18 points in a 70-53 rout. He matched that with a 28/14 effort two nights later against LMU, leading the Zags to an 82-72 win. Perhaps in recognition of Dower’s importance, the USA Today poll raised the Zags three spots from 24th to 21st.

  • If an 83-76 win at San Francisco – its first road win – helped erase the memory of those two opening-season road losses, absolute domination of Santa Clara by 91-81 should have cleared BYU’s mind completely. The Cougars shot 61.5  percent against the Broncos, including 7-of-11 from three-point range, and outrebounded SCU by nine. BYU is growing more comfortable with Matt Carlino coming off the bench, and the erstwhile starting point guard scored 15 points and contributed nine assists in the win over Santa Clara.

    The strtegy to hack-a-Waldow didn't work for Pacific. (Saint Mary's Athletics)

    The strategy to “Hack-a-Waldow” didn’t work for Pacific. (Saint Mary’s Athletics)

  • A little basketball intruded on a whistling contest last Saturday in Moraga, and the result was an ugly 79-73 victory for Saint Mary’s over Pacific. Sixty fouls were called in the 40-minute affair, a pace that rendered impossible any semblance of flow or continuity. Pacific attempted a version of the old Hack-A-Shaq strategy against Gaels’ center Brad Waldow, sending him to the line 14 times, but he crossed up the strategy by sinking 10 free throws en route to a 22-point performance. Stephen Holt, target of the Tiger foulers late in the game, topped Waldow by going 16-of-19 from the line as he scored a career-best 26 points. Remember these names and prepare for the worst if they show up as officials in future games: Jimmy Casas, Sam Haddad and LaDonte King were the whistle-happy referees doing their best to ruin the SMC-Pacific game.
  • San Francisco settled for a split of two games last week as it did the week before, preventing the Dons from maintaining their early-season momentum. USF has three games left on its current home stand, and must do better if they are to remain in shouting distance of the league leaders.
  • Pepperdine also split on the week at home, but the Waves undoubtedly were pleased by bouncing back from the weak effort against Gonzaga to drop surging Portland, 76-65. Marty Wilson has the longest bench in the WCC, adding transfer Malte Kramer and true freshman David Jesperson to the mix against Portland, and watching Lamond Murray, Jr., lead the team with 16.
  • Portland fans must be wondering when the true Pilots will show up. Is it the squad that put together impressive wins over Gonzaga at home and LMU on the road (a 71-57 pasting), or the one that fell to Pepperdine? With BYU coming to town this week, they might get a definitive answer.
  • Santa Clara has been playing as if its season peaked with its January 9 upset of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, falling in consecutive games to Pacific, San Diego and BYU. The Broncos better figure out their true identity before Gonzaga comes to town this week.
  • San Diego is another team sputtering along in the win-loss, win-loss cycle. They split with Santa Clara (W) and San Francisco (L) last week, and now hit the road to Gonzaga and Portland. The Toreros need a strong effort on that trip or face a daunting second half of the season.
  • Loyola Marymount and Pacific are also running out of time to turn their seasons around. LMU dropped two last week, battling Gonzaga before losing by 10 but falling flat against Portland. The Lions face Pacific and Saint Mary’s on the road this week, so the window is narrowing for them as well.
  • Pacific remains the most puzzling team in the WCC, playing everyone hard but notching just one win in six starts. The Tigers host LMU and Pepperdine this week and need a sweep to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Looking Ahead

  • BYU takes its five-game winning streak to Portland on Thursday in a game that warrants regional coverage over ROOT Sports NW and Comcast Sports Bay Area (7:00 PM Pacific). If the Cougars win that one, Saturday’s contest against Gonzaga merits the step-up to ESPN2 (7:00 PM Pacific).
  • Saint Mary’s has a chance to continue its healing under Bennett’s guidance with home games against Pepperdine and LMU, but the Gaels better not loaf against the Waves or they will suffer the same fate they did against Santa Clara.
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