WCC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Final Standings (through games of 2/27/10)

  1. Gonzaga                      12-2 (24-5)
  2. Saint Mary’s                11-3 (24-5)
  3. Portland                      9-4 (18-9)
  4. San Francisco              7-7 (12-17)
  5. Loyola Marymount     7-7 (16-14)
  6. Santa Clara                  3-11 (11-20)
  7. San Diego                   3-11 (10-20)
  8. Pepperdine                  3-11 (7-23)

Eyes on the Prize

Although one could reasonably forecast a WCC tournament championship game featuring no. 1 seed Gonzaga battling no. 2 seed Saint Mary’s for the automatic NCAA bid, a lot of interesting basketball will be played before that final matchup on Monday night, March 8 (ESPN, 6 p.m. Pacific) in Las Vegas. The last week of conference play settled the torrid battle for fourth place between San Francisco and Loyola Marymount (San Francisco got the nod and a first-round tournament bye because of a better conference record than LMU, including beating the Lions twice), and also set the stage for the most intriguing tournament contest. Before discussing that, however, here’s a look at the overall tournament schedule:

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RTC Remembers Loyola Marymount 1989-90: Interview With Jeff Fryer

Posted by jstevrtc on March 3rd, 2010

March 4, 1990.

Quarterfinals, West Coast Conference Tournament.

Loyola Marymount vs Portland.  13:34 left, first half.

Hank Gathers had just scored on a dunk to put his Lions ahead, 25-13.  Unfortunately, we all know what happened soon after.

Twenty years to the day have passed since that moment, one of the most tragic in the history of college basketball.  Gathers, of course, was much more than the leader of the most exciting college team ever to take the floor, and what he meant to people as a friend and family member cannot be explained or summarized in a hundred articles on this or any other website, or by the various 20-year remembrances of both Gathers and that 1990 Loyola Marymount team that you’re likely to see in the next few weeks.   After that moment, the entire WCC Tournament was stopped.  As regular season champions, Loyola Marymount was awarded the WCC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  They were cast as a #11 seed in the West region, and given the “opportunity” to decline the bid for obvious reasons.  This was a good basketball team; they had posted a 13-1 WCC record and were 26-6 overall.  But if they chose to sit this one out — who could blame them?

The remaining Lions decided to play on, knowing that it was the most fitting way to honor their departed friend.  What came after that was probably the most remarkable three-game run in NCAA Tournament history, and not just because LMU was an underdog in each game.  Knowing that not playing was not an option, these guys had to find a way to go out and win games and enjoy basketball without feeling like they were minimizing the life of their fallen teammate.  Working this out in your head would be difficult at any age, let alone when you’re a college kid between 18-22.  Still, they found a way to get through the first game and defeat New Mexico State, 111-92.  They found a way to annihilate defending champion Michigan 149-115 — that is not a typo — hitting 21 three-pointers and forcing UM into 27 turnovers.  They found a way to endure and win the Sweet 16 game against Alabama, 62-60,  a game in which Alabama would actually pull the ball out even when the Tide had 3-on-1 and 4-on-2 fastbreaks so as not to get caught up in the LMU style.  It took the eventual champion in UNLV — one of the best college basketball teams of all time — to defeat them in the Elite Eight.

Fryer (#21) Celebrating

The entire nation had become fascinated with LMU even before Gathers’ death.  Everyone remembers the hyperdrive, speed of light, is-this-really-happening pace that coach Paul Westhead employed (LMU averaged 122.4 PPG that year).  Everyone remembers Bo Kimble’s tribute of shooting his first free throw of each game left-handed, and that he was 3-3  in the NCAA Tournament with the left hand.  The greatest part of the LMU run, though, was the 41-point performance by Jeff Fryer in the second round game against Michigan.  A perfect fit for Westhead’s offense, Fryer was a skilled shooter with classic form and unbelievable range who had the green light to go up with it pretty much as soon as he crossed half-court.  Against Michigan, he entered a rarified state of shooting consciousness, hitting 15-20 on the night — and an unbelievable 11-15 from behind the three point arc.  And if you ever get to see a replay of this game, you’ll notice — a lot of them weren’t exactly with his toes near the line.  It was phenomenal.  The 11 threes still stand as a record number for an NCAA Tournament game, and it was one of the great individual performances in the history of the event.  Mr. Fryer still lives in California and was kind enough to answer some of our questions about those days.

The Righty Kimble Going Lefty

RTC: To this day, when people think of Loyola Marymount, they think of the fast-paced style, the great tournament run in 1990, and Hank Gathers’ untimely death in the West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals that year.  The WCC Tournament begins on Friday.  It’s been 20 years.  What has been the impact of Gathers’ death on your life?

JF: The impact of Hank’s life on my life would be the privilege of playing hoops with one of the best college ball players ever.  I’m thankful that he decided to play his college years at LMU and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  I try not to dwell on his death, just try to remember his life, and that everybody has a time to pass on, and that was his time.

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ATB: Syracuse Survives but Gonzaga Doesn’t

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

Orange Sweep. #5 Syracuse 75, #10 Georgetown 71.  Syracuse looked like a Final Four contender for the first 28 minutes last night. Their zone was impenetrable, their offense efficient and unselfish. Behind big first halves from Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson, the Cuse was able to build a 44-31 halftime lead, a lead they pushed to 23 points midway through the second half. But the Hoyas weren’t about to go away. As the Orange got complacent, the Hoyas started forcing turnovers and getting to the rim. Greg Monroe really began to assert himself in the paint, almost singlehandedly fouling out both Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. All told, the Hoyas put a 33-11 run on Syracuse, cutting that 23-point lead all the way down to 71-70 with possession of the ball.  But on the one and only possession that Georgetown had with a chance to take the lead, the Hoyas settled for a deep, albeit open, three from Jason Clark, which he clanged off the front of the rim. At the other end, Kris Joseph took advantage of a mismatch, taking Greg Monroe to the hole to score with just nine seconds left for a three-point lead. The Orange fouled, Georgetown missed  a free throw, and Andy Rautins sealed it.  Rautins was the high scorer for the game, finishing with 26 points on 6-11 shooting while knocking down five triples. Wes Johnson had 14 of his 16 points in the first half. But perhaps the most important offensive performance came from Joseph. Joseph had been struggling all game long, but in the final two minutes, he got to the rim three times, twice scoring and the third time drawing a foul. It was his ability to take advantage of a mismatch that kept the Orange ahead late.  Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Greg Monroe all went for at least 20, but there was no balance to the Hoya attack. Those three and Jason Clark scored all but two of Georgetown’s 71 points. The Hoyas have now dropped two in a row and four of seven. With a tough final four games (@ Louisville, ND, @ WVU, Cincy), the Hoyas will need some serious help if they want to snag one of the double-byes in the Big East tournament.

Syracuse Held On For the Big Win in DC (D. Nett)

Ghosts of LMU PastLoyola Marymount 74, #9 Gonzaga 66.  The biggest upset by far tonight brought back shades of Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, and yes, RTC favorite Jeff Fryer, as the LMU Lions did the unthinkable and defeated Gonzaga for their second WCC loss of the year.  It was the first Loyola win over a ranked team in two decades, harkening back to the LMU teams of yesteryear.  Tonight, though, instead of Gathers/Kimble/Fryer, it was Ashley Hamilton (17/6), Drew Viney (16/10/5 assts) and Kevin Young (11/5) leading the way.  The Lion defense frustrated the Zags into 35% shooting as a team, and held Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray to a miserable 7-26 night.  For the second time in a month, Gonzaga was shocked on the road by a vastly inferior team in terms of talent on the floor, and we’re wondering if these Zags are prone to losing focus.  Otherwise, how else to explain commanding wins vs. better teams at Memphis, St. Mary’s and Portland in the same time period?  One odd situation that came from this otherwise-huge win for the LMU program involved head coach Max Good and his sophomore forward Young.  At one point the two traded words and reports from the game suggest that Good placed his hand on Young’s neck.  When asked afterward if he had choked Young, he stated that he was merely trying to calm down an emotional player.  One thing is for certain, though.  His team didn’t choke — and the phalanx of students who RTC’d immediately following the buzzer verified it (send us a pic, LMU fans!) (thanks!).

LMU Fans RTC With Gusto (AP)

Leuer’s Return Unlucky. Minnesota 68, #15 Wisconsin 52.  Minnesota has had a disappointing season with all their off-court controversy and inability to win on the road, but if they plan on putting that behind them and getting back to the NCAA Tournament this year, tonight was an excellent start.  The Gophers used a solid performance from Blake Hoffarber (16/9), Ralph Sampson III (10/8) and Devoe Joseph (10/5/5 assts) to shut down everyone but the two UW stars Trevon Hughes (19/4 stls) and Jason Bohannon (18/3).  Jon Leuer made his return from injury tonight but he was clearly off his game, shooting 2-12 from the field for four points.  The Gophers have five games remaining (three at home), and you have to figure they need to win all of those.  It’ll be the two road games — at Illinois and at Michigan — that could determine how this season will end up for Minnesota.  The Badgers, of course, are safely in the Tourney, but their Big Ten regular season title chances took a huge shot with their fifth loss tonight.

The Last Winless Team. Bryant 53, Wagner 51.  Bryant became the last Division I team in America to win a game in the 2009-10 season with their two late FTs to beat Wagner tonight, a mere 366 days after the school’s last win.  Even with a 1-26 record, Bryant isn’t the worst team in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical profiles… they’re 346th of 347 teams.  The only team lower?  1-25 Alcorn State.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Standings (through games of 2/13/10)

  1. Gonzaga 9-1 (21-4)
  2. Saint Mary’s 8-3 (21-5)
  3. Portland 7-3 (16-8)
  4. San Francisco 6-5 (11-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount 4-6 (13-13)
  6. Pepperdine 3-7 (7-19)
  7. Santa Clara 3-8 (11-17)
  8. 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.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2010

Standings (through games of 1/23/10)

  1. Gonzaga                       5-0 (16-3)
  2. Saint Mary’s                 4-1 (17-3)
  3. Portland                       3-2 (12-7)
  4. Pepperdine                   3-2 (7-14)
  5. San Francisco               2-3 (7-13)
  6. Loyola Marymount       1-4 (10-11)
  7. Santa Clara                  1-4 (9-13)
  8. San Diego                    1-4 (8-13)

Who Wants Fourth Place?

All things considered, it’s not a bad spot to be in: satisfaction of finishing in the top half of conference play, first-round bye in the WCC tournament, hope for next season. Yet, the various contenders for the spot keep falling all over themselves to pass it up. Pepperdine holds the spot this week, San Francisco had it last week and who knows what next week will bring?

Among fourth-place hopefuls, Loyola Marymount at 10-11 holds the most wins for the season and boasts that upset of Notre Dame in South Bend back in December. But the Lions fell hard on their trip to the Pacific Northwest last week, suffering a scorching 79-39 loss at Portland, but bouncing back to play better against Gonzaga, eventually losing 85-69 after being tied at the half. Lions coach Max Good can rightly point to injuries that have cost his team the services of Edgar Garibay, Jarred DuBois, Ashley Hamilton, Drew Viney and Larry Davis at various times this season (Garibay is done for the year), but still questions remain: can the Lions overcome crosstown rival Pepperdine, who beat them for the 12th straight year in Malibu two weeks ago; can they do better against the Zags and Pilots on their home court; how will they handle Saint Mary’s high-powered offense? Only by answering those with some wins can LMU hope to finish in the top four, and they get a chance this week with games at home against San Diego on Thursday, Saint Mary’s on Saturday and Pepperdine on Feb. 6.

Pepperdine and USF are at least as hard to figure as LMU, and both had a tough time last week. The Waves also lost both games in the Northwest, giving Gonzaga something to worry about with a 55-point second half behind Keion Bell’s outrageous 37 points in a 91-84 loss, then falling meekly to Portland 80-64 when Bell had “only” 21. Bell’s average for the week was 29 PPG but his team still suffered two losses and fell from a tie for first to fourth. USF had only one game, a rivalry contest against fellow Bay Area Jesuit institution Santa Clara, and lost 66-65 after closing hard in the final minutes and having the ball trailing by one point in the final seconds. The inbounds pass went right through the hands of sophomore guard Rashad Green, however, and with it the Dons’ chance for a victory. USF’s next two home games don’t get any easier, as they face Portland on Thursday and Gonzaga on Saturday.

Santa Clara’s victory over USF was its first in conference play, and it shares the cellar with San Diego, which fell 71-56 at Saint Mary’s, succumbing to an early display of Gael offense that bolted them into a 23-5 lead after 12 minutes. Santa Clara faces the Portland-Gonzaga onslaught at home along with USF this week, and San Diego’s hopes of moving out of last place hinge on success on the road against LMU on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday.

What all the turmoil in the 4-8 spots underlines is the predictability of the top three positions, with nine-time conference champ Gonzaga entrenched at 5-0, wannabe usurper Saint Mary’s one game behind at 4-1 and recovering Portland in third at 3-2 (same conference mark as Pepperdine, which is listed in fourth because of a poorer overall record). The Zags don’t seem to be in trouble with this week’s road games to the Bay Area, while Saint Mary’s will give Pepperdine (Thursday) and LMU (Saturday) a shot at them by travelling south to Malibu and Los Angeles. Portland will hope to continue bouncing back from losses to the Zags and Gaels as it accompanies Gonzaga on the Bay Area trip.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 1/16/10)

  1. Gonzaga                       3-0 (14-3)
  2. Pepperdine                   3-0 (6-12)
  3. Saint Mary’s                 3-1 (16-3)
  4. San Francisco               2-2 (7-12)
  5. Portland                       1-2 (10-7)
  6. San Diego                    1-3 (8-12)
  7. Loyola Marymount       1-2 (10-9)
  8. Santa Clara                  0-4 (8-13)

Conference: Week Two

After two weeks of conference play the WCC can claim at least two major surprises along with a host of expected results. The biggest surprise has to be seeing Pepperdine tied with Gonzaga atop the standings with a perfect 3-0 mark, the first time the Waves have been in that position since 2002. In that year, Pepperdine and Gonzaga tied for the conference championship at 13-1.

Surprise no. 2, although not as big, is Santa Clara’s inability to win any of its first four games, which included two at home. The Broncos were picked to finish as high as third by some media outlets, but now find themselves looking up from the bottom without having played two of the conference’s strongest teams, Gonzaga or Portland. With four games coming against those two, plus Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Kerry Keating’s squad will have to scramble to get out of the basement.

Pepperdine achieved the top spot by extending its hex over Loyola Marymount 79-75 in Malibu to start conference play on Jan. 9, squeaking by Santa Clara 61-60 on sophomore guard Lorne Jackson’s steal of a Robert Smith layup attempt at the buzzer, and pulling away from San Francisco 83-68 on the strength of a 24-9 run in the last seven minutes. All three wins came at home, and the Waves will be sorely tested this week with away games against Gonzaga and Portland. Still, Tom Asbury’s troops cannot be disregarded despite their many struggles in the pre-conference, where they went 3-12 including an embarrassing 67-65 loss to lowly Cal Baptist. Pepperdine is an extremely young team and has shown signs of coming together at just the right time.

How young is Pepperdine? Gonzaga coach Mark Few, the league’s master propagandist, has induced the national media to incessantly note that the Zags started the season with ten new players, while omitting the fact that two of its key contributors, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray, are four-and-three-year veterans, respectively, and redshirt sophomore center Robert Sacre has been in the program for three years. Only 20-year-old European veteran Elias Harris, nominally a freshman, is a truly new face among players that Few has counted on most heavily.  Asbury, on the other hand, starts three sophomores (Jackson, Keion Bell and Taylor Darby), and two juniors, (Mychel Thompson and Jonathan Dupre, a junior college transfer). All five scored in double figures against USF, with Darby notching a double-double (15/12) and Bell just missing a triple-double with 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. It is a talented five , but they will be strong underdogs in Spokane Thursday night against the battle-tested Zags, who breezed through a daunting three-game road trip in Portland, Moraga (Saint Mary’s) and San Diego to take a lot of the early air out of upset balloons. Nevertheless, any game against undefeated co-leaders counts as a showdown, and Asbury’s pups will be pumped to throw a major scare into the Zags.

Of the predicted Gonzaga challengers, Saint Mary’s fared pretty well in the first two weeks of the conference season, and Portland slightly less well. The Gaels underwent a bad stretch at the end of the first half against Gonzaga on Jan. 14, letting a close 36-33 game deteriorate into a 45-33 halftime deficit by not scoring in the last four minutes. They would spend the entire second half trying to overcome that 12-point margin, outscoring the Zags 49-44 and coming to within 84-80 with just under a minute left and the ball in their hands. A three-point attempt by freshman Aussie Jorden Page rimmed out, however, and Gonzaga ran out the clock at the free throw line for its 89-82 win. The Gaels averted disaster two nights later by struggling to a 77-72 win over Portland.

Portland came even closer against the Zags than the Gaels on Jan. 9, mounting a furious comeback that culminated with sharpshooting guard Jared Stohl trying a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. Stohl took a pass on the sideline going away from the basket, under close guard, somehow turned his body 180° and launched a prayer that seemed laser-guided to the basket. It somehow missed and the Pilots were denied a chance to pull out a win in overtime. As close as those games were, however, Gonzaga prevailed in both in hostile environments, and made it three-in-a-row with a routine dismantling of San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, 68-50. Portland was counting on the season-opening encounter with Gonzaga on its home court to put a new leader atop the conference, but instead finds itself 1-2 with losses to the league’s two top teams.

The Zags get to go home for the next two games, the Jan. 21 encounter with Pepperdine, and a tussle with Loyola two days later. LMU has stumbled in conference play so far, losing its opener to Pepperdine and the next contest to San Francisco 70-67, before righting itself for a convincing 81-70 win over Santa Clara on the 16th. Like Asbury, LMU’s Max Good has a rather untested, up-and-down team to take into the raucous environs of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags are 67-4 since it opened in 2004. The Lions will try to focus on their 87-85 upset of Notre Dame in South Bend on Dec. 12 and summon the magic that downed the Fighting Irish.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 1st, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Standings (through games of 12/30/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s     13-2
  2. Gonzaga       9-3
  3. Portland         7-5
  4. Loyola Marymount       8-7
  5. Santa Clara      7-8
  6. San Diego        6-8
  7. San Francisco        4-10
  8. Pepperdine         4-11


Although several WCC teams have games remaining before conference play begins next Friday (Jan. 8), a few general observations appear to be safe. First, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s (or Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga if you prefer) have erased any doubts about their continued stranglehold on the top two positions. Gonzaga could finish its pre-conference schedule at 11-3 or 10-4 depending on its game on the road against Illinois on Jan. 2, but the Zags have made it perfectly clear they are up to the challenge of competing for a 10th straight WCC Championship. Winning the prestigious Maui Invitational with a scintillating 61-59 overtime win over Cincinnati in November, taking Michigan State to the wire before falling 75-71 in East Lansing and adding wins against Wisconsin and Washington State answered any questions about how Gonzaga would respond to a large-scale roster turnover. The Zags are back.

Saint Mary’s used the pre-conference period to make quite a statement as well: these are not your old, Patty Mills-led Gaels, but a whole ‘nother animal – one with very sharp teeth. The Gaels are putting up eye-popping offensive numbers (82.7 ppg) and playing much more efficiently with Mickey McConnell running the offense in place of Mills. Mills was a spectacular offensive force, but the dynamism of his game would sometimes leave the other four Gael players standing around watching along with everyone else. Everyone is involved this year, as witnessed by the three Gaels averaging double figures – Omar Samhan (20.8), Matthew Dellavedova (13.4) and McConnell (12.8) – and the other two starters close behind: Ben Allen (9.3) and Clint Steindl (7.9). Wayne Hunter was averaging 11 ppg before he went down with a season-ending ACL tear.  Heading into conference play next weekend with away games against San Francisco on Jan. 8 and Santa Clara on the 10th, the Gaels are shooting just under 50% from the floor and just over 40% from three-point range. Their efficiency is emphasized by a team assist/turnover ratio of 1.5, headlined by McConnell’s almost three-to-one pace of 96 assists to 37 turnovers.

Observation no. 2 Portland has not stepped up its game following last year’s 19-13 record and third place conference finish. This columnist picked Portland to wrest the WCC crown from Gonzaga based on its senior-laden roster and steady leadership from Coach Eric Reveno, but that prediction was predicated on the Pilots’ seizing the moment. For the moment, they have been seized by an inability to win on the road and a penchant for being blown out by strong opposition: 84-66 by West Virginia and 89-54 by Washington. Last week’s 78-69 loss to Nevada in Reno didn’t lessen fears that the Pilots will be undone on the road in the WCC, although they get an early opportunity to regain their swagger with a conference-opening home battle against Gonzaga on Saturday (Jan. 9).

Observation no. 3. Loyola Marymount is for real, with peril to San Diego and Santa Clara in the battle for fourth place in the conference and an opening-game bye in the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. The Lions won their fifth in a row on Dec. 30, a 104-89 victory over the troublesome Seattle Redhawks in Gersten Pavilion, and topped 100 points for the first time since 1998. Coach Max Good has succeeded in grafting high-caliber transfers (Drew Viney, Larry Davis), holdover stars (Vernon Teel, Kevin Young and Jarred DuBois) and newcomers (Alex Osborne, Given Kalipinde) into a compelling force. LMU has only a rematch against Cal State-Bakersfield, which it beat 84-71 on Dec. 19, before entering conference play Jan. 9 at Pepperdine. It then hosts USF on the 14th and Santa Clara on the 16th, giving it a chance to open conference play at 3-0.

Santa Clara and San Diego seem vulnerable to Loyola’s resurgence because of erratic play. Santa Clara fell under .500 on the season with a pair of unimpressive performances in its own Cable Car Classic Dec. 29-30. The Broncos lost to Northeastern 62-50 in the opener and to the Wofford Terriers 80-72 in the consolation game, and have two more non-conference contests before opening WCC play at home Jan. 8 against San Diego. The games, against 5-5 New Hampshire and 9-3 Harvard, don’t figure to be ones to get the Broncos well, as New Hampshire is coming off a 63-55 win over Colgate and Harvard boasts wins over George Washington (66-53)  and Rice (85-64), a team that handled Santa Clara 70-57. Harvard is led by sensational senior guard Jeremy Lin of Palo Alto High School, who will be hoping for a strong performance before a Bay Area crowd.  San Diego won its only game last week, 63-56 over lightly-regarded Savannah State before losing to Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve, and has a final pre-conference game on Jan. 3 against Florida A&M, also at home. The Jan. 8 game with Santa Clara on the Broncos’ court will tell a lot about how those two teams will compete for fourth-place against LMU.

Pepperdine did little to show that its Dec. 23 upset of Utah presaged a turnaround, as the Waves were sliced up by Georgia 64-47 a week later in Athens, GA. Pepperdine’s final pre-conference game is against Miami in Malibu on Jan. 3, leaving the Waves to anticipate the beginning of WCC play at home on Jan. 9 against LMU.  USF can take some solace from its 86-71 loss to Washington in Seattle on Dec. 27, especially in a 14-4 run that brought them within four points halfway through the second half. A three-pointer by freshman guard Michael Williams topped off the rally, and the Dons got another strong performance from junior transfer Moustapha Diarra, who totaled 14 points and 12 rebounds. Another transfer who has been mostly silent for USF in the pre-season, guard Rashad Green, also scored 14 points, giving the Dons hope for a better fate in conference play than their 4-10 pre-conference record. USF has one more tuneup, against Holy Names on Jan. 2, before taking on Saint Mary’s at home in its WCC opener on Jan. 8.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009


Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 12/16/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s       8-1
  2. Gonzaga        8-2
  3. Portland         6-3
  4. Santa Clara      6-5
  5. San Diego      5-6
  6. Loyola-Marymount    4-7
  7. USF      3-7
  8. Pepperdine    3-8

Mysterious Doings

Although the overall conference landscape didn’t change much within the week, a mystery team has emerged in the form of Loyola Marymount. After stumbling through some early-season highs and lows, including a 67-59 win over cross-town rival USC on Nov. 21 that followed a deflating 84-78 home loss to UC Irvine, the Lions pulled off a stunning 87-85 upset over Notre Dame on Dec. 12 behind a Jared DuBois 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining. To say the Fighting Irish don’t often lose at home to non-Big East teams is a bit of an understatement – the last time it happened was four years and 41 victories ago.

Loyola had been hinting at a major turnaround from last year’s injury-plagued three-win disaster, but had been the epitome of close-but-no-cigar until the Notre Dame game. First of all the Lions restocked with high-profile transfers Drew Viney, a 6-7 sophomore forward from Oregon, and Larry Davis, a 6-4 guard from Seton Hall, and recruits Edgar Garibay, a 6-10 forward from Compton, CA, Alex Osborne, a 6-7 forward from Los Angeles, Given Kalipinde, a 6-3 guard from Zambia, Africa, and Ashley Hamilton, a 6-7 redshirt freshman forward from London. Combined with returning standouts Kevin Young, a 6-8 sophomore forward, Vernon Teel, a 6-4 junior guard, and DuBois, a 6-3 sophomore guard, coach Max Good had a strong nucleus to improve the Lions’ fortunes.

Besides the soul-satisfying win over USC, however, Loyola’s other games were mostly heart-breakers: a 90-87 squeaker to Boise State to open the University of Montana Tournament, topped by an even-closer 64-63 loss to the host Grizzlies; an 89-84 home loss to UC-Santa Barbara, then another crushing 76-70 defeat by Wyoming. Garibay then went down with a torn ACL, Davis missed four games with a heel injury and Kalipinde missed the Notre Dame game with a leg problem, but there is a lot of talent to make WCC foes wary of Loyola as the season moves ahead. With five winnable games (including two with Cal State Bakersfield) before conference play begins, the Lions could be well over .500 by then and ready to cause some serious trouble.

Steady as She Goes

Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga continued to coast atop the league standings, each winning two games in the week. The Gaels got additional bragging rights for the WCC by stopping Oregon 81-76 in Eugene for their third win in three years over the Ducks, and then revenged the league against Portland State of the Big Sky Conference with a 101-80 pasting in Moraga on Dec. 15. Portland State had upended the University of Portland and Pepperdine, both on their home courts, in earlier games, and posted perhaps the biggest upset of last year with a victory over Gonzaga on the Zags’ court.

The constant for the Gaels was center Omar Samhan, who scored 22 against Oregon and 31 against Portland State to go with 25 rebounds in a good week’s work against the state of Oregon. Samhan is averaging over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game in an All-American-caliber season for the Gaels. He became the first player in Saint Mary’s history to have a 30-pt, 15-rebound game, and only the second in all of college hoops this season to record 15 field goals and 15 rebounds in a game. Samhan and his mates have a shot at another WCC-slayer Friday night (Dec. 18) with a home game against Pacific, then head to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Tournament over Christmas.

Gonzaga breezed to wins over a struggling Davidson in the Battle in Seattle and over the NAIA’s Augustana College in Spokane. The only event of note was a knock on the noggin suffered by the Zags’ nonpareil guard Matt Bouldin in the Augustana romp, which kept him out of the Davidson game. Gonzaga made no official announcement about Bouldin’s status but most observers expect him back as the Zags take on #7 Duke Dec. 19 in New York, a chance to improve on their #15 ranking. The Gonzaga-Duke game will be televised nationally at 1 p.m. Pacific time on CBS.

Portland had a quiet week, posting a 72-62 win over Denver University and gearing up for a showdown with 24th-ranked Washington in Seattle on Saturday (Dec. 19). After attaining its first top-25 ranking in 50 years with early-season wins over UCLA, Oregon and Minnesota, Portland dropped out of the rankings with losses to Portland State and Idaho. A win over the Huskies would re-start its once red-hot hopes and set up the Pilots for its final four non-conference games before a conference-opening barn-burner against Gonzaga at home on Jan. 9.

Has Santa Clara turned the corner and readied itself for a run at the conference leaders? With two wins over lightly-regarded foes (Dominican, Houston Baptist), the Broncos headed for Rice in Houston Wednesday with high hopes. The streak stopped there, however, as the Owls hung a 70-57 loss on them. Another question mark team, San Diego, had an up-and-down week that didn’t settle anything as far as the Toreros’ ultimate success. They suffered a tough 82-78 loss to undefeated and #19 New Mexico on Dec. 9 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, then bounced back with a 59-56 road win over Boise State. It must have seemed like old times for Bill Grier’s troops, as Brandon Johnson drained a jumper with 29 seconds left to seal the win. San Diego heads to Las Vegas for the weekend, with games against Southern Illinois and South Florida in the Holiday Hoops Classic.

For Pepperdine and San Francisco it was more of the same last week. Pepperdine surprised even its harshest critics by managing to lose to an NAIA team, Cal Baptist, by a score of 67-65, to go with an 80-72 loss earlier in the week to Fresno State. USF came close but went down 66-63 to Loyola of Chicago on the road.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2009


Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Standings (through games of 12/8/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s 6-1
  2. Gonzaga 6-2
  3. Portland 5-3
  4. Santa Clara 4-4
  5. San Diego 4-5
  6. Pepperdine 3-5
  7. Loyola-Marymount 3-6
  8. USF 2-6

The Best

With approximately one-quarter of the 2009-10 season completed, does it make any sense to designate the league’s best team so far? If so, what criteria should be used? Saint Mary’s has the best winning percentage and leads the conference in several key statistical categories (scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounding margin, and blocked shots), but has compiled that record against a mixture of strong (Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Utah State) and weak teams (Cal Poly, New Mexico State, and San Jose State).

Gonzaga has two losses, but they came against powerhouse Michigan State on the road and up-and-coming Wake Forest at home. The Zags’ three wins at the Maui Invitational were over a resurgent Colorado, Big Ten stalwart Wisconsin and potential Big East contender Cincinnati. That performance, plus a come-from-behind 74-69 victory over Washington State at home on Dec. 2 was enough to vault the Zags to a high of No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today poll before they fell to No. 22 following the loss to Wake. Zag fans would argue strongly that their more difficult schedule in the early going gives them the nod over the Gaels, and the national media agrees by awarding Gonzaga a Top 25 ranking while casting only a few votes for Saint Mary’s.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2009


Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.


  1. Gonzaga     5-1
  2. Portland      5-1
  3. San Diego      5-2
  4. Saint Mary’s     3-1
  5. Santa Clara     3-3
  6. Pepperdine    3-4
  7. USF    2-4
  8. Loyola-Marymount    2-5

Looking Back

Zags, Pilots, Toreros Notch Tournament Wins to Lead WCC Teams

It has been a tournament-heavy pre-season for the WCC, and it was in venues ranging from Maui to Anchorage to Anaheim that the early-season leaders made their marks. Gonzaga led the charge by winning the venerable Maui Invitational with victories over Colorado (76-72), Wisconsin (74-61) and Cincinnati (61-59) in a hard-fought tournament championship in overtime on Thanksgiving eve. The Zags had padded their resume with early home wins over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Mississippi Valley State, and put the college hoops world on notice that 2009-10 is not a rebuilding year by taking second-ranked Michigan State to the wire in a 75-71 loss in East Lansing, MI on Nov. 17.

In battling Michigan State evenly and winning in Maui, Gonzaga answered the question of how it would replace departed front-line stars Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt. Seven-foot redshirt sophomore Robert Sacre moved commandingly into the post position for the Zags with an eye-opening performance against Michigan State – 17 points in 19 minutes of play limited by foul trouble. In case no one noticed that, they certainly took note of Sacre’s front-line counterpart Elias Harris, who notched 17 points of his own against Michigan State in the first big-game college appearance for the 20-year-old freshman forward who has logged considerable time internationally with the German national team. Harris has emerged as the early star of Mark Few’s collection of international players, which includes Sacre, freshmen Kelly Olynk and Manny Arop from Canada and Bol Kong, also from Canada by way of Sudan.

As much as Sacre and Harris elicited oohs and aahs, it was the Zags’ veteran trio of guards Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson that led them. Bouldin has emerged in his senior year as the indispensible hub through which all things offensive pass for Gonzaga. An intimidating 6-5 guard, Bouldin stage manages the entire offensive show, plus contributes double-figure scoring from both outside and inside. He can spot up for a three-point jumper or take his man off the dribble. Gray, who has struck many observers as a marvelously talented but under-performing member of the Zags offensive show, evidently decided that his junior year was the time to answer the nay-sayers. He has been virtually unstoppable, moving constantly without the ball and receiving Bouldin’s pinpoint passes anywhere from beyond the arc to under the basket. His jump shot is as sweet as ever, but he is infinitely more aggressive and confident this year.  If opponents somehow limit Bouldin and Gray, Goodson might steal the show as he did in the Zags’ impressive win over the fearsome Cincinnati Bearcats in Maui. On a night when Bouldin was struggling on 1-7 shooting and totaled only 6 points, Goodson made key baskets in clutch time to rack up 12 points. Bouldin and Gray shared the MVP trophy in Maui, but Goodson was an unsung hero.

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