Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
Gonzaga roars back into contention, Saint Mary’s faces the specter of repeated collapse and BYU tells anyone who listening, “Don’t count us out.” It was quite a week in the WCC.
The Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s game last Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center on the Gonzaga campus was almost a reverse of their earlier encounter in Moraga in January, an 83-62 Saint Mary’s win. The Zags were the aggressors and the Gaels seemed unable to counter with their usual efficiency and defensive poise. The Zags triumphed, 73-59, behind their all-freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who hit a combined 7-9 from behind the three-point arc and finished with 39 points. The Gaels’ stellar back court of Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt countered with just 20 points, all of them from Dellavedova as Holt threw up an 0-fer on the big stage.
The stat that probably registered most vividly in Randy Bennett’s mind, however, was the Zags’ 40-26 rebounding edge, a stunner that countered a Gaels’ strength and contrasted with a 36-33 edge of their own in the previous contest.
While all this was taking place in Spokane, BYU had the night off and worked up a head of steam for a Saturday encounter with lowly Pepperdinein the Marriott Center. The result, an 86-48 rout, seemed to position BYU for a stretch run to move them back into contention for a double-bye in the WCC tournament beginning March 1.
Randy Bennett's Crew Did Not Have Much To Smile About This Past Week (AP)
Saint Mary’s bounced back from the Gonzaga loss – its first in WCC play – to handle Santa Clara, 82-67, while the Zags continued on a high note with a 78-59 smackdown of Loyola Marymount, which failed in its effort to move into position for a top-three finish. The Gaels, however, stumbled again last night against a hot-shooting Loyola Marymount team, losing 75-60, and falling into a virtual tie for first place with two losses (the Zags have played two fewer games than Saint Mary’s).
Saint Mary’s (23-4, 12-2) is hearing footsteps for the first time in a season that was going swimmingly until Max Good’s LMU Lions dropped by McKeon Pavilion last night. Not only did the Gaels lose the game, but starting guard Stephen Holt left the game with a knee injury of uncertain severity and emerging post man Brad Waldow re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit for large segments of the game. Bennett’s boys could not have had a worse send-off for their Saturday BracketBusters game with Murray State in Murray, KY.
Gonzaga (20-4, 10-2) got its mojo back with last week’s convincing home wins over Saint Mary’s and LMU, but has some work to do before getting ready for another NCAA tournament run. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
Gonzaga failed in its second big test of the season last Thursday, succumbing to the fast hands of BYU’s defenders and losing 83-73 in Provo. Coming after the Zags’ 21-point pasting by Saint Mary’s in Moraga back in January, the BYU loss cast serious doubts about Gonzaga’s chances to notch its 12th consecutive claim to at least a share of the WCC regular season title. Both Gonzaga and BYU play “fast,” meaning they bring the ball up quickly and go into high-speed motion offenses to catch defenders on their heels and score easy buckets. The problem last Thursday was BYU was better at that game than Gonzaga, forcing 19 turnovers consisting mostly of steals (14). The Zag back court tandem of Kevin Pangos and Marquise Carter were responsible for eight turnovers against five assists, and erratic forward Elias Harris committed four turnovers and scored just seven points. The Zags do not have a player as complete as BYU’s Noah Hartsock, who put on a clinic for Harris and various other defenders, scoring 24 points, pulling down 14 rebounds and committing just one turnover.
For a brief period last Saturday it seemed as if the WCC universe was about to tip off its axle: San Francisco was up big against Loyola Marymount in the second half; BYU was struggling against Portland; and Gonzaga, desperately needing a win following the loss to BYU, was having problems with the lowly Pepperdine Waves, who pulled within two points of the Zags (42-44) with 12:24 left in the second half. Order was restored, however, as Loyola made a furious comeback to erase a 17-point San Francisco lead with a little more than seven minutes left and handed the Dons a crushing 90-88 loss. BYU, making its first trip to Portland, figured out a way to overcome a four-point Portland lead with 16 minutes left – get to the free-throw line and turn ‘em over. BYU shot a mind-boggling 53 free throws, making 38, and turned over Portland 24 times en route to a 79-60 win. And Gonzaga righted itself long enough against Pepperdine to manage a 72-60 win.
Noah Hartsock (34) Was Outstanding In BYU's Key Victory Over Gonzaga (Getty)
Saint Mary’s (22-2, 11-0) avoided the Saturday night drama, but had enough trouble with improving San Diego last Thursday before overcoming a 60-58 deficit at the 12:03 mark in the second half to post an 84-73 win. By continuing to win the Gaels continued to rise in the national rankings, notching a program-best #13 ranking in the ESPN/Coaches’ Poll and a #16 in the AP writers’ poll.
Gonzaga (18-4, 8-2) finds itself two-and-a-half games behind Saint Mary’s heading into tonight’s crucial rematch with the Gaels in the frenzied atmosphere of their home court. A win and the Zags can hope for a repeat of last year’s swoon by Saint Mary’s that allowed the Zags to tie for the conference title. Another loss and the Zags fall three games behind in the loss column with only four games to go. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
Saint Mary’s was in the spotlight last week and the Gaels did not shirk from the attention. First came a businesslike, 71-64, win over Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, then an epochal, 80-66, romp over BYU in Provo that seemed to unhinge everyone connected with BYU basketball. It wasn’t only the 22,000-plus rabid fans in the Marriott Center, it wasn’t only normally low-key BYU coach Dave Rose losing his cool, it wasn’t just Noah Hartsock earning a flagrant foul with a blatant forearm shiver to the neck of Gaels’ forward Rob Jones. It was almost a fan riot, an atmosphere so riddled with boos, objects thrown on the floor and technical fouls that ESPNU announcers Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham repeatedly warned about the need for officials to gain control.
The Battle On The Court Between Saint Mary's and BYU Wasn't The Only Storyline Of That Contest (AP)
Fat chance, as the officiating crew of Frank Harvey, James Giron and Glen Mayberry seemed incapable of providing the right answer to a surly crowd – calling the game tight on both sides and leaving it up to BYU officials to calm the masses. Instead, the crew seemed to come to a collective decision that ignoring repeated fouls by BYU players and cracking down on Saint Mary’s would do the job. This theory came to a head about halfway through the second half with a technical foul called on the Saint Mary’s bench for allegedly standing up and/or crowding the floor – it was never made clear. The spuriousness of that call was caught by a BYU fan who happened to be shooting video of the BYU and Saint Mary’s benches at the time the technical was called.
Check it out:
Everyone on the Saint Mary’s bench is seated at the moment the technical is called. Even if they were all jumping up and down, one wonders how the ref would know since he made the call with his back to the bench and from the opposite end of the court. It seems bizarre and indicative of the desperate measures the refs applied to deal with a bad situation. No one from BYU stepped forward to calm things down, no one addressed the crowd, no one made any placating gestures (except for a routine announcement from the public address announcer after the fans were warned for their first barrage of object-throwing). All in all a big black eye for BYU’s first year in the WCC and a testament to the cool of Randy Bennett’s Gaels, who didn’t panic under relentless pressure from BYU and the crowd.
1. Saint Mary’s (21-2, 10-0) spent another week at the top of the league standings and another week moving up in both major rankings – to #16 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and to #18 in the AP poll. To top it all off, ESPN announced that Saint Mary’s would travel to Murray, Kentucky, on February 18 to play currently undefeated Murray State in the premiere contest of ESPN’s Bracket Buster event. Never mind that neither Saint Mary’s nor Murray State – ranked in the top 10 by both polls – needs the game to break into the NCAA Tournament brackets, it still will be a closely-watched contest with obvious benefits for whichever team wins.
2. Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) bided its time last week, topping Portland,74-62, in Portland in its only contest. The Zags saved their energy for their showdown with BYU tonight in Provo, a game with huge importance for both teams. The Zags are two games behind Saint Mary’s at present, although only one behind in the loss column. A loss to equally-desperate BYU would put them two back in the loss column with Saint Mary’s coming to Spokane on February 9.
Mark Few and Gonzaga Is Still Very Much Alive For The WCC Title (AP)
3. BYU (18-6, 6-3)andLoyola Marymount (13-9, 6-3) (tie): Tonight’s contest with Gonzaga might be BYU’s last chance to salvage its season, as a defeat would drop the Cougars four games back from Saint Mary’s and three behind Gonzaga. Not only how it plays but how its team, coaches, and fans, behave will be under scrutiny for BYU, as a repeat of last week’s meltdown against Saint Mary’s could have dire repercussions for the school’s reputation and self-respect. Loyola split last week, following up the Saint Mary’s loss with a throat-tightening, 62-59, win over Portland that wasn’t decided until the final minutes. The win was important to keep LMU close to the conference leaders and to prove they could win a league game at home. Before dispatching the young Pilots, LMU was 5-0 on the road and 0-3 at home.
5. San Francisco (15-9, 5-5) began to look more and more like last year’s team (well, it IS last year’s team), as it appears to be peaking at the same time. By beating Santa Clara on the road and San Diego at home, the Dons evened their conference record and began looking ahead to see how far they can advance in the standings. It’s crowded at the top, and it won’t be easy to move into fourth place and earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Dons, with a tough challenge in Los Angeles against LMU on Saturday, seem ready to take it on.
6. San Diego (8-13, 3-6) showed some signs of life in its, 65-56, home win over Pepperdine – its third win in five games – but then regressed in an, 84-70, road loss to San Francisco. It was enough to keep the Toreros out of the depths of the conference’s lower half.
7. Portland(5-17, 2-7) is in seventh place only because it has fewer losses than Pepperdine, but the Pilots were more than competitive against LMU and their 74-62 loss to Gonzaga wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicates. Eric Reveno’s achingly young troops scare everybody they play but Portland hasn’t figured out how to beat most teams. Yet.
8. Pepperdine (8-13, 2-8) recovered from the loss at San Diego to topple hapless Santa Clara, 74-62, at home. The Waves continue the PCH Cup series with LMU tonight, then hitch up their shorts for the invading Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday – it may get ugly.
9. Santa Clara (8-13, 0-8) continued its nosedive with losses to San Francisco and Pepperdine, and face Portland at home tonight before going on the road to face San Diego. Most observers feel the Broncos will pull out of this swoon some time, but the clock is ticking on the 2012 season.
The Post Intrigue Between Robert Sacre (left) and Brandon Davies Is Just One Of Many Key Matchups In Tonight's Big Contest Between Gonzaga and BYU
You don’t have to look far for this week’s drama, as Gonzaga vs. BYU in Provo (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) tonight should have all you want. BYU is barely hanging on in the WCC race and Gonzaga can’t afford to fall further behind Saint Mary’s, which has only tonight’s home game against San Diego.
A week from tonight comes the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in Spokane, which should be as riveting as the Gaels’ assault on BYU. The Gaels throttled Gonzaga, 83-62, on January 12, and the Zags have not forgotten.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
[Ed. Note — a previous version of this CIO misrepresented several of the author’s thoughts. We have reverted it back to its original format, and for the oversight the editing team apologizes.]
Who Fears the Pac-12? Not Us: Sunday’s 93-55 beatdown of Santa Clara by Washington State notwithstanding, the WCC has compiled a 5-4 record against Pac-12 teams so far in 2011. Most notable were Loyola Marymount’s season-opening 69-58 upset of then-#17 UCLA at the LA Sports Arena (Pauley Pavilion is being remodeled) before UCLA’s troubles were well-known (heck Reeves Nelson actually played in the game), and Brigham Young’s 79-65 victory over Oregon on December 3 at a “neutral” site in Salt Lake City. BYU doubled up on the Pac-12 by dumping Utah, 61-42, on December 10, again in Salt Lake City, where Pac-12 teams come to die. There are three more games in this conference rivalry, and before it is all over, the Pac-12 might regain its supremacy if not its swagger: San Diego at Stanford on December 17 (big edge to the Pac-12), Gonzaga hosting Arizona in Seattle, also on December 17 (a toss-up), and Pepperdine at Washington State on December 22. Pepperdine will not be allowed to watch the tape of the Santa Clara-Washington State game.
Those BYU Boys Can Really Play: This was not the perception initially, as the Cougars limped out of Logan, Utah, on the wrong side of a 69-62 tussle with Not-As-Good-As-Usual Utah State on November 11, and followed that with a 73-56 faceplant against #11 Wisconsin in a Chicago-area tournament. Then, presto-chango, wily Dave Rose ended the Brock Zylstra point guard experiment, anointed freshman Anson Winder to run the offense and allowed the sharp-shooting Zylstra to go back to bombing from the wing. The wins started coming, perhaps none more impressive than the 94-66 thrashing of Weber State on December 7 at the Marriott Center. Weber State thought it was a good team, what with having the nation’s leading scorer, Damian Lillard, in its backcourt, but, BYU put the brakes on Lillard by holding the senior to 15 points (he averages 28.2 points per game), got a double-double out of veteran forward Noah Hartsock (19 points/12 rebounds) and were off to the races. Winder can enjoy his day in the sun until vaunted transfer Matt Carlino becomes eligible on December 17.
BYU's Dave Rose Once Again Has His Squad Playing At A High Level. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Where Trouble Lives: Who has a more turbulent program, San Diego or Loyola Marymount? San Diego, home of the perpetually-disciplined Toreros, hit mid-season stride on November 10 by announcing that massive junior center Chris Gabriel and seldom-used sophomore guard Jordan Mackie had been dismissed. Just to keep the pot boiling, word soon leaked out that last year’s prized recruit, guard Ben Vozzolafrom Las Vegas, was thinking about leaving the team as well. What does last year’s co-cellar-dweller need the least? Defections from its less-than-overwhelming ranks, it would seem. Max Good doesn’t have as much of a disciplinary problem at LMU — some would say there’s no discipline there at all — as a consistency one: making sure the same team shows up night after night. For instance, the same team that beat UCLA in its season-opener without injured star Drew Viney in the lineup, seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, the one that showed up two nights later for a 58-51 loss to Middle Tennessee State didn’t seem so good, not to mention the team that lost to Harvard and Columbia at home. It must be said that the actual lineup of an LMU team is subject to change as much as its performance: after Viney cycled back into the lineup to participate in two puzzling losses, the Lions lost stellar forward Ashley Hamilton and starting guard Jarred Dubois to injuries, then Viney again. The more things change…
Tie Between BYU (10-2) and Saint Mary’s (5-1) – Okay, it seems unfair because BYU has played twice as many games as the Gaels and has wandered into the deep woods with games at Utah State and against a ranked Wisconsin team in a preseason tournament. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, under the ultra-cautious guidance of Randy Bennett, have wandered barely at all (Denver, CO, and San Luis Obispo, CA), and have played an early-season slate replete with patsies (Fresno Pacific and San Francisco State). BYU’s emergence as a WCC title contender was mentioned above, so that leaves Saint Mary’s. This was supposed to be the year of the Re-Emerging Center in Gael-land, with an imposing 7-foot transfer (Kyle Rowley) and a promising 6’9″ redshirt freshman (Brad Waldow) contending to fill the year-old empty shoes of Omar Samhan. Hasn’t happened, and Bennett has instead fielded the same lineup as last year’s with Matthew Dellavedova moving over to take the point guard spot previously handled by the sublime Mickey McConnell, and, in a real surprise, former walk-on Beau Levesque starting at one forward spot in place of veteran Clint Steindl. Seems neither Rowley nor Waldow has staked out the post as his own, although Waldow showed signs of life with a 13-point effort in 22 minutes of action in the Gaels’ closer-than-it-looks 59-54 win over Cal Poly on December 3. One constant for the Gaels has been senior forward Rob Jones, who was named the WCC’s Player of the Month for November on the strength of an 18 PPG, 11.4 RPG output – tops in the conference. The Gaels hope Jones’ teammates begin to click before they face Baylor on December 22 in Las Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.
When Jay Wright speaks, his Wildcat squad listens. The veteran coach knows how to communicate with his players and that is one of the reasons he has had such a successful tenure.
A key for West Virginia‘s resurgence this season has been the turnaround of senior guard Casey Mitchell. Mitchell, who was thought to be a consistent player for the Mountaineers, battled inconsistency and conduct problems throughout the early part of the season.
UNC head coach Roy Williams revealed guard Dexter Strickland has been battling a knee injury for a few weeks. Strickland’s health will be a key to Carolina’s chances of making a deep run.
Marquette has struggled with defensive inconsistencies all season, but they have had great success getting to the hoop and drawing fouls. Look for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to exploit the Musketeers in an attempt to get easy hoops.
#13 seed Princeton is seeking a monumental upset as they prep to face Kentucky. The Tigers do have a history of pulling huge shockers in March, as they stunned defending champion UCLA in the first round in 1996.
Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen is battling the flu, but is expected to be a full participant in tonight’s tilt with Utah State. If Pullen is not 100%, one can assume Utah State’s chances for an upset get significantly stronger.
The fresh infusion of talent provided to Gonzaga by the emergence of Marquise Carter, David Stockton, and Sam Dower have been key to the Zags’ late season run. The play of all three will undoubtedly dictate if Mark Few‘s squad will make any noise.
Tom Izzo knows this season did not go exactly the way he wanted it to, but an experienced squad can be a huge factor if the Spartans make a run. Izzo is a great veteran coach, who has Final Four experience, so a big run may not be that surprising.
St. John’s associate head coach Mike Dunlaphas interest in the opening at Wyoming. Dunlap has a great track record as an assistant and a lower-level head coach and could thrive as the head man at Wyoming.
An interesting story has emerged about how Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor has endured bouts with alcoholism. His road to redemption is quite inspiring, as he did not let his demons put an end to his career.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Power Rankings and Postseason Outlook
1) Saint Mary’s (24-8, 11-3). The record puts them slightly ahead of Gonzaga, but the Gaels would gladly trade places with the Zags as the NCAA Tournament looms. Without an automatic bid, the Gaels and their mediocre out-of-conference record are at the mercy of the NCAA Selection Committee. Hope for the Big Dance, but consider the NIT a strong possibility.
2) Gonzaga (24-9, 11-3), WCC Tournament Champions, recipient of automatic NCAA bid. How well a rugged out-of-conference schedule will hold up to the Selection Committee’s scrutiny will determine where the Zags are seeded. They are definitely on an upsurge at regular season’s end, something the committee considers favorably.
3) San Francisco (17-13, 10-4), not an NCAA Tournament contender but an intriguing late-season story, the Dons gave Gonzaga a tougher game in the WCC Tournament semis (lost 71-67) than Saint Mary’s did in the championship game. The NIT is definitely a possibility for Rex Walters’ team.
4) Santa Clara (19-13, 8-6) seems to fit the profile for a bid to the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
5) Portland (20-11, 7-7) posted another 20-win season and played in the CollegeInsider.com tourney last year, but would seem to rank behind Santa Clara for a bid this year.
6) Pepperdine (12-21, 5-9) finished with a small push to stay out of the bottom of the conference, but will have to settle for that. Team anomaly: the Waves played better with the dismissal of star guard Keion Bell than they did with him in the lineup.
7) San Diego (6-24, 2-12). The Toreros ruined Randy Bennett’s season with their improbable upset of the Gaels on February 16, but did little else to give Bill Grier a reason for an upbeat off-season.
8) The hands-down Disappointment of the Year in the WCC, Loyola Marymount ended in last place after being picked second ahead of Saint Mary’s in a pre-season coaches’ poll. Does embattled Max Good have a future with the Lions after his team’s utter collapse? Only time will tell.
A Look Back
When the nets were cut by the victorious Gonzaga Bulldogs Monday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, there was a sense of déjà vu for the West Coast Conference. The same foes, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, battled it out for the WCC tournament championship and the automatic NCAA bid that went with it. Gonzaga won this year’s title, 75-63, avenging an 81-62 pasting administered by the Gaels in 2010, and could claim WCC supremacy for the 11th straight year even though the Zags and Saint Mary’s tied for the regular-season championship with 11-3 records. Gonzaga now stands at 24-9, and Saint Mary’s at 24-8 with a rare Friday contest in between against Weber State – added as a warm-up for possible post-season play – still to come in Moraga.
For all the apparent similarities, however, the story of the Gaels and Bulldogs was marked by differences. The turning point in both teams’ season came in a January 27 game between the two on the Zags’ court in Spokane. Saint Mary’s gutted out a 73-71 win on the strength of Mickey McConnell’s last-second one-handed leaner from the free throw stripe with the Zag’s seven-footer Robert Sacre draped all over him.
The game should have been a difference-maker for Saint Mary’s, marking the first victory in Spokane during the immensely successful 10-year reign of 2011 WCC Coach of the Year RandyBennett. Instead of using the victory to spark a late-season run to the outright WCC championship and a secure NCAA seeding, however, the Gaels stumbled badly from that point on. They were routed 85-70 by a pesky Portland Pilots team two nights later in Portland, followed that up with an inexplicable 74-66 loss to cellar-dwelling San Diego on February 16, lost an ESPN Bracketbuster contest against Utah State 75-65 in Moraga on the 19th, and then dropped the rematch against Gonzaga, 89-85 in overtime on the 24th to give the Zags a shot at a conference season tie. Only a regular season-ending victory over Portland in Moraga on February 26 enabled the Gaels to avoid total collapse heading into the WCC Tournament.
Gonzaga, on the other hand, used the Saint Mary’s loss to spur itself to a 9-0 WCC run marred only by a 62-58 non-conference setback against Memphis on February 5. Gonzaga’s spurt was fueled in part by the ascension of JC transfer Marquise Carter to the starting point guard spot that had eluded him previously. On the strength of his late-season play, Carter garnered Newcomer of the Year honors in the WCC and was named Most Valuable Player in the WCC Tournament, indicating the realization by other conference coaches of his impact on what had been a wavering Gonzaga offense.
As Selection Sunday looms, Gonzaga considers NCAA life with possibly a lower seeding than they are accustomed to – perhaps a 9 or 10 seed instead of a 5 or 6 – but they know they’re in. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, will be Nervous Nellies on judgment day, hearkening back to two years ago when they were stiffed by the NCAA Selection Committee and won two games in the NIT instead. Most bracketologists had the Gaels in the NCAA field despite the WCC tournament result, but Bennett has been burned before and will probably not relax until he knows the Gaels’ fate for sure. The game against Weber State was not intended, nor will serve, to sway the Selection Committee.
McConnell, the Gaels’ crafty senior point guard, was voted Player of the Year and his stats – 16.8 points and 6.0 assists per game – reflected that. McConnell was joined on the All-Conference Team by his sophomore backcourt mate Matthew Dellavedova, who contributed 13.5 points and 5.3 assists-per-game, and junior transfer forward Rob Jones, who totaled 13.4 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Others were:
Kevin Foster, Santa Clara, the WCC’s leading scorer at 19.4 ppg
Steven Gray, Gonzaga 13.8 ppg and 3.9 apg
Rashad Green, San Francisco guard, 11.8 ppg, 2.8 apg
Nemanja Mitrovic, Portland guard, 13.7 ppg
Mikey Williams, San Francisco guard, 15.0 ppg
Robert Sacre,Gonzaga center, 12.5 ppg and 6.2 rpg
Luke Sikma, Portland forward, 13.1 ppg and a league-leading 10.5 rpg
If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to email@example.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.
Top 25 Games
#11 Purdue 76, #1 Ohio State 63: “In the last week, Purdue took down Wisconsin and Ohio State…back to back. The number 2 and 10 teams in the nation. Sure, they were at home, but that’s where you must dominate. Ask MSU or Illinois how much they’d like to be unbeaten at home this year and how hard it is to accomplish.” (Boiled Sports or Eleven Warriors)
Nebraska 70, #2 Texas 67: “The march toward a 16-0 conference mark is over as the No. 2/3 Texas Longhorns fall, 70-67, to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Despite a furious rally in the final three minutes of the game, aided by mindless Nebraska fouls, Texas could never overcome the lead they relinquished early in the second half. The Huskers dominated the glass from start to finish, crippled the Texas defense with dribble penetration, and limited the Texas offense by sagging four or five players in the paint and daring the Longhorns to score from the perimeter. In a game that looked eerily similar to the December loss at Southern Cal, Texas was thoroughly worked physically, especially in the low post. The Nebraska size gave the ‘Horns fits, got most of the Texas frontcourt into foul trouble, and forced Rick Barnes to play some odd lineups, mostly in the first half.” (Burnt Orange Nation)
#3 Kansas 89, Colorado 63: “Markieff Morris led the Jayhawks with 26 points and 16 rebounds including 9 on the offensive end. It was one of the best performances of his career and Colorado simply had no answer on the interior.” (Rock Chalk Talk: Part 1 and Part 2)
“What’s wrong with Gonzaga?” is a question heard more and more throughout college hoops. It is not surprising considering the Zags’ unusual 15-9 overall record and shocking 5-3 mark (4th place) in the West Coast Conference that it has dominated for the past decade. When any powerhouse team goes into a slump there are myriad reasons, and the same could be said about Gonzaga. Focusing on two major ones, however, helps put the Zags’ current woes into perspective. Simply put, the Zags are suffering from the loss of two players and a vacuum created by those who failed to succeed them.
The Loss of Bouldin (and Pargo) Have Really Hurt the Zag Dynasty
The missing players are Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin. Pargo was the rugged, 6’2, 219-pound point guard who starred in the Zags’ backcourt for four years before graduating in 2009. He was named Player of the Year in the WCC after his junior year, and gave the Bulldogs a solid counterpart to the canny Bouldin. He could take defenders off the dribble, hit jump shots off screens and go to the hoop to flush the ball with authority. Gonzaga did not directly replace Pargo for the 2009-10 season, instead moving Bouldin into the point guard position and relaying on the mop-head’s court vision and outside shooting skills to maintain the Zags’ superiority in his senior year. The Bouldin-led Zags hit their first speed bump in the post-Pargo era in the 2010 West Coast Conference Tournament championship game against Saint Mary’s. The Gaels’ inside-out combination of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen in the frontcourt and Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova in the backcourt led the Gaels to an 81-62 upset.
Heading into the 2010-11 season, the Zags thought they had finally found a point guard to replace Pargo and Bouldin with JC transfer Marquise Carter, who was a star for Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Carter had impressive stats in two years at Three Rivers – nearly 18 PPG and 5.5 APG in his sophomore year – and led the team to the national JC championship game where he scored 35 points in a loss to Howard of Texas. Carter, however, who seems much slighter than his roster size of 6’4, 178 pounds (maybe the 178 is correct), has not caught on with the Zags. The Bulldogs started the season with journeyman backcourt player Meech Goodson at the point alongside all-around star StevenGray, and based their hopes on their strong frontcourt duo of Robert Sacre in the post and Elias Harris at power forward. Redshirt sophomore guard David Stockton, son of the legendary Gonzaga and NBA star John Stockton, has steadily rung up more minutes at the point as this season goes on, and may end up as the Zags’ regular lead guard by season’s end. Or not, as coach Mark Few has tinkered with his lineup from day one and may not be finished trying to find a solution.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
A Look Back
It was a slow, after-finals week for most WCC teams, but the pace picks up considerably this weekend. Early-season top dogs Saint Mary’s and Portland cruised to expected wins – the Gaels by a score of 75-56 over UC Riverside at home and the Pilots in a closer-than-expected 71-64 win at Denver – and Gonzaga continued its slide against Top 25 teams, losing to Notre Dame in South Bend to fall to 4-5 for the first time in many people’s memory.
Loyola-Marymount and San Francisco scored home wins, Santa Clara lost on the road to Pacific, Pepperdine fell in Fresno and San Diego snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 82-57 thrashing of Laverne.
Player of the Week: Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s – Gaels coach Randy Bennett has said his goal with transfer forward Rob Jones is to turn him into a scoring leader, and Jones may have gotten the message this week with lines of 24 and 11 against UC Riverside following a 17 and 11 outing against Denver. Jones, who was a solid but unspectacular force in his first two years at San Diego, took on more responsibility for the Gaels in its need to replace the frontcourt scoring and rebounding punch of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen. He has shown signs of being able to surpass Allen’s production, lessening the pressure on Kenton Walker, Tim Williams and Mitchell Young to collectively fill Samhan’s shoes. Standing out in the UC Riverside stat sheet: Jones’ 6-9 mark from the three-point line.
Saint Mary’s (8-2): One of the knocks on Saint Mary’s so far this season is a lack of true road wins, with a 69-55 loss at San Diego State its only foray into an opponent’s gym. That could change before Christmas, as the Gaels travel to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies next Thursday, following a December 18 matchup with Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim. New Mexico State (3-7) is a far cry from the NCAA team of last year, but the Aggies are still smarting from the 100-68 loss suffered in Moraga last November. They will do all they can to repay the Gaels’ rude hospitality.
Portland(8-3): While they picked up their third true road win on Saturday, a 71-64 victory over Denver, the Pioneers (2-8) made the Portland Pilots work for it. Denver led by one at halftime before the Pilots’ three-point-shooting duo of Nemanja Mitrovic and Jared Stohl, aided by rebounding machine Luke Sikma, powered the Pilots down the stretch. Mitrovic, the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, made three three-pointers in a row to spark an 11-2 run in the game’s final minutes that sealed the win. Mitrovic and Stohl combined for 9-15 shooting from beyond the arc, while Sikma notched his fifth double-double of the year with 11 and ten.
Loyola Marymount (6-5): The Lions are nursing a three-game home win streak, the latest victory being a 72-67 come-from-behind effort over South Dakota on December 11. The wins have come over lowly competition, including Cal Poly and Sacramento State, but the fun ends this coming Saturday, when the considerably tougher Florida State Seminoles roll into Gersten Pavilion. Some of Florida State’s wins in a 7-2 season have come over suspect teams like Mid-Continent and North Florida, but the ‘Noles recently topped Clemson 75-69 and have lost only to in-state rival Florida (55-51) and Big Ten power Ohio State and its dynamic freshman JaredSullinger (58-48). You could say the bar will be raised considerably higher for Max Good’s revamped Lions, who have been improvising with the loss of stars Jarred DuBois and Ashley Hamilton and the slow rehabilitation of Edgar Garibay. New names such as freshmen Anthony Ireland, Godwin Akonji and Ayodeji Egbeyimi (call him “Deji”), have been finding their way alongside veterans Vernon Teel, Drew Viney and Larry Davis.
Santa Clara (5-5): SC looked to be steadying itself with a 67-63 road win over cross-town rival San Jose State on Friday, but the wheels fell off when the Broncos went a little farther afield against Pacific in Stockton on Tuesday. Starting the unconventional lineup featuring ChrisCunningham in place of Marc Trasolini for the second straight game, the Broncos fell behind by as many as 21 points (60-39) late in the second half and lost by ten, 69-59. Pacific (6-4) has no signature wins this year and lost to Pepperdine last week, but handled Santa Clara easily. Kerry Keating has a chance to continue experimenting with his lineup on Friday, when the Broncos host Houston Baptist, but had better settle on his best troops before they face Washington State on Sunday.
Gonzaga (4-5): The Zags found some balance in its not-as-close-as-it-looks 83-79 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, but they’re still struggling to find a floor leader (did I hear the name “Bouldin” whispered in the wind?). Elias Harris had 19 points, Steven Gray 18 and Robert Sacre 16 for the Zags against Notre Dame, and those numbers are what the world was expecting this year. But even with strong production from its core players, the Zags found themselves trailing the Irish by 14 in the second half, with another rout seemingly in the works. Only a lethargic effort by Notre Dame down the stretch prevented that, and the Zags are struggling to find a steadying force in the backcourt to supplement their power players. Transfer Marquise Carter doesn’t look like the answer so far, and veteran Meech Goodson has not put a strong stamp on the team. With a breather Thursday against Lewis Clark State in Spokane, the Zags are thrust right back into the fire on Saturday with a game against Baylor in Arlington.
San Francisco (4-5): A light week was good news for a team struggling to find healthy bodies, and the Dons rewarded themselves with a 50-48 overtime win over rugged Montana. Guard CodyDoolin, who went down in the Dons’ loss at Louisville last week, returned to help his teammates hold off the Grizzlies, but it was his backcourt mate Michael Williams who stole the show. Williams accounted for 23 points and 13 rebounds in the low-scoring affair, and was joined by Perris Blackwell with 12 and ten. The Dons will need efforts like those and much more as it travels to Seattle on Saturday to face streaking Washington.
Pepperdine (4-8): The Waves racked up 27 turnovers in its 64-51 road loss to Fresno State. Conference POY candidate Keion Bell had eight of them. Pepperdine will hope to get back on track Saturday when it hosts UC-Irvine.
San Diego (2-8): USD had something to celebrate with Monday’s 82-57 pasting of Laverne, and could overlook the fact that its first victory in nine tries came at the expense of a 3-4 NCAA Division-III squad that doesn’t grant athletic scholarships. Why quibble? Bill Grier may have found some answers with the second straight strong games from burly 6’11 center Chris Gabriel and transfer guard Darian Norris. Adding fuel to a small glow of hope for the Toreros was the play of freshman forward Trevor Fuller, who elicited some excitement as a star for Episcopal School of Dallas, but has mainly sat the bench for San Diego. Gabriel, Norris and sophomore KenRancifer scored 14 points each, while Fuller contributed six points in 17 minutes. Things might not be so cheery next week in Honolulu when the Toreros take on the likes of Baylor, Washington State or Mississippi State in the Diamond Head Classic.
A Look Ahead
This Saturday will be the broadest showcase for WCC teams in the current season. Some of the marquee matchups include Saint Mary’s vs. Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim; Gonzaga vs. Baylor in Arlington; Loyola vs. Florida State in Los Angeles; San Francisco vs. Washington in Seattle; and Portland vs. Portland State in – where else? – Portland (Portland State is the home team).