Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Standings (through games of 12/23/09)
- Saint Mary’s 10-2
- Gonzaga 8-3
- Portland 7-4
- Santa Clara 7-6
- Loyola Marymount 6-7
- San Diego 5-8
- San Francisco 4-9
- Pepperdine 4-10
Dark Horse Rising
All the top dogs took their lumps last week, while dark horse Loyola Marymount continued its rise in both confidence and the conference standings. The Lions leap-frogged sagging San Diego to take over fifth place and served warning on Santa Clara that its fourth-place berth may not be safe. And, in case you missed it or thought it was a media hoax, Pepperdine upset Utah 76-64 on Wednesday night (Dec. 23).
Gonzaga had only one game in the week, and it was a slap in the face. Travelling to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19 to take on Duke and possibly move up in the national rankings from its #15 spot, the Zags instead got a strong dose of help defense and Jon Scheyer. The final score of 76-41 may have been “an aberration” as Zags’ coach Mark Few described it, but the game itself was a lesson in preparation. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had scouted Gonzaga perfectly, and his team cut off the passing lanes and double-teamed the Zags big men Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. With leading scorer Matt Bouldin possibly feeling the effects of a head injury suffered against Augustana on Dec. 9, the Zags barely topped 40 points and suffered their worst defeat in 25 years. They have a long time to recover before returning to action on Dec. 28 with a home game against Eastern Washington.
Saint Mary’s, cruising along at 10-1 and rising to a #21 RPI ranking, also fell rudely to earth. Like the Zags, the Gaels were undone by a stout defensive effort, in this case administered by resurgent University of Southern California. The Trojans, showing that their 22-point upset of ninth-ranked Tennessee (77-55) on Dec. 19 was no fluke, shut down both the Gaels’ powerful inside game of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen, and its cadre of outside bombers, Matthew Dellavedova, Clint Steindl and Mickey McConnell, in a 60-49 victory in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. After completing the Diamond Head schedule, the Gaels return to action in Moraga in the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic beginning Dec. 29.
Completing a trifecta of peril for WCC leaders, Portland continued its descent from national prominence with an 89-54 thumping by Washington in Seattle on Dec. 19. The Pilots bounced back with an 82-52 revenge win over Idaho at home three nights later, featuring Jared Stohl’s record-shattering 10 three-point baskets to account for all 30 of his points. Stohl broke his previous record of nine threes set against USF last January. The win over Idaho avenged an earlier 68-48 loss in Moscow, ID, and set the stage for Portland to continue its resurgence against Nevada in Reno on Dec. 28
There was no fall to earth for LMU following its 87-85 upset of Notre Dame on Dec. 12, as the Lions dispatched WCC punching bag Cal State-Bakersfield 84-71 on the 19th and then toppled tough Long Beach State 85-80 in overtime on the 21st. That three-game win streak is the Lions’ first since 2007 and doubled the teams’ win total from last year. Loyola also moved up in the WCC standings and appears to be in good shape to challenge for a spot in the upper half of the conference and a first-round bye in the WCC tournament.
If Loyola does so it will be at the expense of San Diego and Santa Clara, both of whom appear to be losing their grip on a top-four finish. San Diego lost both times in the Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas, first a 70-68 heart-breaker to Southern Illinois and then 69-60 to the Big East’s South Florida. The Toreros have three home games, beginning with a Dec. 29 contest against Savannah State, to right themselves before conference play begins. Santa Clara appeared to have taken a large step forward by beating tough Pacific 54-53 at home on Dec. 21, but then stumbled against so-so San Jose State 74-68 two nights later. The Broncos host the venerable Cable Car Classic on Dec. 28, opening against Northeastern.
Pepperdine enlivened the bottom rung of the standings with its shocker over Utah, a perennial NCAA team and considered a top contender in the Mountain West Conference. Utah has been struggling and dropped to 5-7 with the Pepperdine loss, but the Waves had shown precious little to suggest they were capable of stepping up against the Utes. They came into the game at 3-10 following losses to Cal Baptist, Portland State and New Mexico State.
San Francisco suffered the same fate in the Holiday Hoops Classic as San Diego, falling to both South Florida and Southern Illinois, before bouncing back at the expense of hapless Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 23. Dior Lowhorn with 27 and Kwame Vaughn with 22 points paced the Dons in their 82-73 win over the Roadrunners, but USF will not rest easily on its laurels: they face Pac-10 power Washington in Seattle on Dec. 27, and coach Rex Walters probably won’t show his guys the tape of Washington’s evisceration of Portland.