Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Standings (through games of 2/13/10)
- Gonzaga 9-1 (21-4)
- Saint Mary’s 8-3 (21-5)
- Portland 7-3 (16-8)
- San Francisco 6-5 (11-15)
- Loyola Marymount 4-6 (13-13)
- Pepperdine 3-7 (7-19)
- Santa Clara 3-8 (11-17)
- San Diego 2-9 (9-18)
The Dynasty Continues
Barring a collapse of unimaginable proportions, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will win their tenth straight WCC Championship in 2010 – an almost-unprecedented string of single team domination in college basketball. After swatting down pretenders Portland (76-49) and Saint Mary’s (80-61) on consecutive Thursday nights at home, the Zags face a road trip this week to the less-than-fearsome Loyola Marymount Lions and Pepperdine Waves, then finish up the conference schedule at home against lowly Santa Clara on the 25th and San Francisco on the 27th. San Francisco brings the only substantive credential – an 81-77 upset of the Zags on Jan. 30 – into the final weekend, but Gonzaga showed by its overwhelming defeats of strong Portland and Saint Mary’s teams that it has recovered from whatever jim-jams caused it to lose to San Francisco. The Zags never let either Portland or Saint Mary’s get into their offenses, bringing stifling defense and potent offensive efforts by Matt Bouldin, Elias Harris, Robert Sacre and others to authoritatively separate themselves from their closest pursuers. There is no reasonable hope that anything will keep the Zags from running the table on the remaining games, including the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-8. The Zags’ main preoccupation for the next several weeks will be determining how high a seed they will receive in the NCAA Tournament.
Randy Bennett’s Saint Mary’s Gaels had a terrible trip to the Pacific Northwest after posting six straight wins following a closely-contested 89-82 loss to Gonzaga at home on Jan. 14. The Gaels were 8-1 in conference play and 21-3 overall heading into the Feb. 11 showdown against Gonzaga with the conference lead in the balance. With a win, Saint Mary’s would have put a little daylight between itself and the Zags because of the Zags’ earlier loss to San Francisco. For about 24 minutes the Gaels played as if they were serious about threatening Gonzaga’s long reign as WCC champs, but unfortunately college games are 40 minutes long. After an Omar Samhan basket tied things at 43 all with 16 minutes left, it was all Gonzaga. The Zags’ hounding defense produced numerous turnovers by Gael guards Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, and to underline the worst game of his college career, McConnell – averaging nearly 14 points per game – was shut out.
McConnell bounced back with a team-leading 25 points in the Gaels’ game against Portland two nights later, but his teammates were unable to stem Portland’s strong guard play and lost 80-75 in overtime. Pilots’ senior point guard T.J. Campbell scored a career-high 24 points and backcourt mate Jared Stohl added 16 to lead their team. Portland pulled even with Saint Mary’s in the loss column with the victory, and is looking to finish its final four games on a roll to gain the number two WCC Tournament seed and an automatic advance to the conference semifinals. The Pilots accompany Gonzaga on the southern California road trip this week to Pepperdine and LMU, then return home to face San Francisco and Santa Clara to end the season. If the Gaels, who have a road game against San Diego and two home contests against Pepperdine and LMU, also win out, they and Portland will tie for second place at 11-3. It will take a lot of head-scratching to determine who earns the number-two seed in that case, as the teams split against each other, with both games being decided by five points, and both lost twice to Gonzaga. Portland, however, had a larger point differential in its two losses to Gonzaga – 30 – than Saint Mary’s, which had a 26-point deficit.
With the league-leaders completing conference play against bottom-tier teams, there are many opportunities for those teams to score significant upsets. San Francisco is playing the strongest ball among the non-contenders, having won four out of five games including a 77-47 rout of Pepperdine and a convincing 75-66 win over LMU at home last week to solidify its hold on fourth place. However, the Dons travel to Bay Area rival Santa Clara on Feb. 20 for a rematch against a team that edged them 66-65 earlier, then head to the northwest to end the season against Gonzaga and Portland. Hard to predict a Dons’ upset of the northwest squads.
LMU and Pepperdine both entertain Gonzaga and Portland this week, and LMU especially will be looking to earn back some respect it has lost since an early-season upset of Notre Dame in South Bend. Max Good has most of the LMU walking wounded back for the Gonzaga and Portland showdowns, with transfer guard Larry Davis the only prominent player still on the sidelines. The Lions are a game-and-a-half back of San Francisco and would love to redeem their early-season promise by ruining the seasons of the top dogs and moving up in the standings. They have the opportunities, but will have to overcome strong momentum to topple either Gonzaga or Portland this week, or Saint Mary’s in the final conference game on Feb. 27 in Moraga.