Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He filed this report from Saturday’s game between Saint Mary’s and Pepperdine.
When you talk about the West Coast Conference, generally the beginning, middle and end of the conversation revolves around Gonzaga – and rightfully so, as the Bulldogs have now won at least a share of 11 straight conference titles. And with the addition of BYU to the WCC this offseason, the Cougars jumped right to the top of the list of the biggest challengers to the Zags’ throne. But there’s that little school in Moraga, you know, Saint Mary’s, the one that most recently made a Sweet Sixteen run itself in 2010, and this week served notice that they’re a force to be reckoned with and every bit as likely to win the conference title as their other two, more famous, competitors.
Thursday night, BYU kicked off its stay in the WCC by traveling to McKeon Pavilion and promptly getting taken apart by the Gaels. While the Cougs’ talented forward Brandon Davies took advantage of the SMC frontline to the tune of 28 points on 18 field goal attempts, Gael senior forward Rob Jones went a long way toward counteracting Davies’ performance, tossing in 24 points of his own while grabbing 15 rebounds and handing out four assists. But it was the Gael backcourt that shone the brightest this weekend, not only in the win Thursday, but in their 29-point takedown of Pepperdine in Malibu on Saturday. Against BYU, the three-man backcourt of junior Matthew Dellavedova and sophomores Stephen Holt and Jorden Page combined for 52 points, 18 assists and 11 rebounds, while hitting 9-of-17 from deep. On Saturday it was 44 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds on 7-of-14 from three. Given that the trio of guards are really the only guards on the Gaels’ 11-man roster, head coach Randy Bennett needs to make sure he can get consistent production out of those three. And so far he has.
Page got his first chance to start for the Gaels this week, as senior forward Clint Steindl injured an ankle against Missouri State just before Christmas and remains out, but the Gaels didn’t skip a beat. Page was impressive throughout the weekend, but especially against Pepperdine he provided an early spark for the team, hitting two threes on the Gaels first four possessions and never looking back from there. Not only can he knock down the long balls, but he is terrific off the dribble, either creating for himself or finding his teammates spotting up. “He’s just touching the surface of what he can do,” Bennett said after the game Saturday. “We see him in practice, so we know what he can do, but he’s a guy that needs minutes. He’s at his best when he can get loose a little bit, make shots, and have some freedom. And with Clint out, he’s been able to do that.”