Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Whither success? As of last Tuesday (December 18) things were looking bright for the WCC in its annual power struggle against the other non-power conferences. The conference record of 60-31 added up to a .659 winning percentage and only one member, Portland, had a losing record (4-6). Things took a downward turn with last week’s games, as the WCC went 7-10 and dropped the winning percentage to .606. The biggest contributor to the downturn was San Francisco, which dropped three-out-of-three to go under .500 (5-6) for the first time this season. Loyola Marymount (5-6) and San Diego were also underwater as of yesterday. Conference leaders Gonzaga (11-1), Santa Clara (11-2), Saint Mary’s (8-3) and BYU (8-4) were leading the way, while Pepperdine remains the surprise team with a 7-5 record.
The conference took a bit of a hit nationally last week, but Kerry Keating’s Santa Clara squad keeps trucking along (Getty)
Stat Attack: Conference statistics through December 18 reflected team performances, with Gonzaga leading in scoring margin (+20.9), scoring defense (59.8 PPG) and field goal percentage (52.0%). Saint Mary’s, largely on the strength of its 120-67 blowout of Jackson State, led in scoring offense – 81.3 PPG to Gonzaga’s 80.8 PPG – and the Gaels also topped the league in free throw percentage (78.7%) and three-point field goal percentage (41.0%). How is Santa Clara sustaining its consistent preseason performance? Partly by leading in four categories: assists (18.0 per game), steals (9.4 per game), turnover margin (+7.0 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (198 assists to 121 turnovers, for a 1.6 ratio). Loyola point guard Anthony Ireland continues to lead the league in scoring with 20.7 PPG, followed by Tyler Haws of BYU at 20.3 PPG, Kevin Foster of Santa Clara at 20.2 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s at 19.5 PPG and Brandon Davies of BYU at 19.2 PPG. The most impressive individual stat in the early going is San Francisco forward Cole Dickerson’s 13.1 rebounds per game, which places him among the nation’s leaders.
Gonzaga (11-1): The Zags stayed home and took it easy last week, cruising to a 74-52 win over the Campbell University Fighting Camels out of the Big South Conference.
Santa Clara (11-2): Santa Clara’s redemption tour continues unabated, as the Broncos knocked off Alcorn State and Wagner last week to win its own Cable Car Classic. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
Bye-bye Gonzaga? Shuffling through the barrage of reports, rumors, and guesses that emerged from the defection of the Catholic Seven from the Big East Conference, one could conclude that:
Gonzaga might join a new alliance of those seven plus some other basketball-only schools to form a new super-conference.
Saint Mary’s might also join the party.
Neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s were ever in the plans of the Seven.
That the WCC already has what the Catholic Seven are seeking: a mostly homogeneous group of geographically contiguous schools with a common academic philosophy and a commitment to quality basketball.
Involving the WCC in the Big East blow-up was mostly the work of Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his ever-reliable mouthpiece, Andy Katz of ESPN. Katz reported last Wednesday (December 12), before the seven departing schools had announced a decision, that, “Sources say the Zags would love to part with the West Coast Conference and be a member of a national, branded basketball conference… the Zags are looking out for themselves and would like to be positioned with fellow national Catholic-based schools instead of regional ones in the WCC.”
Is Gonzaga going to jump ship? Only time will tell (AP)
No one familiar with Few’s musings a few weeks ago was worried about what would happen to Gonzaga in the case of a BCS/everybody else-type split in the college basketball ranks had any doubts who Katz’s source was. And it is safe to say that no one else belonging to or friendly with the WCC appreciated Few’s willingness to throw the conference under the bus on the basis of some unfounded worries about an imminent basketball schism.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Zags supreme? The steady rumble of Gonzaga media support reached a higher pitch than usual this preseason, perhaps fueled by the Zags’ strong showing in the NCAA Tournament last March (dispatching West Virginia 77-54 and taking Ohio State to the wire before succumbing 73-66). With everyone back and anticipation building over incoming 7’1″ freshman Przemek Karnowski, the Zags’ success this year seemed foreordained. And their fast start, humbling West Virginia for the second time in eight months, 84-50, and roaring through the Old Spice Classic with wins over Clemson, Oklahoma and Davidson, amped up the volume. By the time Gonzaga faced Illinois last Saturday in Spokane, it was off to its best start in school history at 9-0 and ranked #10 in the AP poll. The Illini, however, under new coach John Groce, have dreams of their own, and were also riding an undefeated start (9-0) and high AP ranking (#13). Illinois spanked the Zags 85-74, temporarily derailing the express train to the Final Four, but didn’t dislodge Gonzaga from the top spot in the preseason WCC poll.
What else is new? Mark Few has his Gonzaga squad playing at a high level (AP)
Welcome back, Traz and Kevin: If ever a team was glad to get back two stars temporarily sidelined, it was Santa Clara and seniors Marc Trasolini and Kevin Foster. Without Trasolini out of action all last year because of a knee injury, and without Foster for the last eight conference games following a drunken driving arrest, the Broncos stumbled to a humiliating 0-16 record in the WCC. Things are looking up for Kerry Keating’s Broncos this year, thanks to a heavy dose of Foster and Trasolini. Foster was named WCC Player of the Month for November after averaging 21.7 points per game, moving past Kurt Rambis to become Santa Clara’s all-time leading scorer and moving to third-place in WCC history for made three-point baskets. Trasolini has also been stellar, averaging nearly 15 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as Santa Clara fights back toward respectability.
Cousy for Delly? Saint Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova was among the final five candidates for last year’s Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s outstanding point guard (North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall won the award in 2011-12) and has been nominated again this year. Can Delly buck the headwinds from players from larger conferences (e.g., Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Phil Pressey of Missouri, Peyton Siva of Louisville) and capture the prize this year? He seems to be building the type of season that would make a great case for it, leading the Gaels in scoring with 18.4 points per game and dishing out 5.6 assists per game, but his non-statistical contributions are even more compelling. Without muscular Rob Jones in the Gaels’ lineup this year, Dellavedova has shouldered both the scoring and leadership roles, twice scoring more than 30 points (32 in a win over Drexel, and 31 in a win against Drake) and holding his team together until newcomer Matt Hodgson settles in on the front line. A lot may depend on how well Saint Mary’s does in the postseason, and Delly will need some help if that is the deciding criterion.
Gonzaga (9-1):Until they ventured into Pullman, Washington on December 5 for their first true road game of the year against Washington State, the Zags seemed to be building toward a dominating season. They let the pesky Cougars, who had already suffered a 58-56 loss to Pepperdine and were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, tie them with 14 seconds left, however, and were saved by a last-minute layup by Kevin Pangos to pull out a 71-69 win. Things got worse three days later with the Illinois loss, but Gonzaga has shown intimidating depth on the front line with the rejuvenation of 7’0″ forward Kelly Olynyk, who redshirted last season to work on his game. Olynyk, interrupting teammate Sam Dower’s expected break out season, scored 22 points in the second half against Washington State and 16 against Illinois. The Zags face daunting opponents Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the coming weeks, which will either restore them as postseason favorites or dampen their luster heading into the WCC season. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC. You can find him on Twitter at @mvern1
Keeping It Going: Between the two, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have monopolized the WCC in recent years – the Zags since since Gonzaga began its dominant run of WCC titles in 1999, and Saint Mary’s since winning the WCC Tournament Championship in 2010, splitting the regular-season conference title in 2011 and winning both the regular-season and tournament titles in 2012. Can these programs keep the dominance alive in 2012-13?
Delly a repeat? The WCC has seen numerous repeats as Player of the Year: Quintin Dailey and Bill Cartwright at San Francisco, Doug Christie and Dwayne Polee at Pepperdine, Steve Nash at Santa Clara. The last time was Blake Stepp of Gonzaga in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Can Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s become the first repeat winner since Stepp?
Chances Are These Two Guys (Randy Bennett, left, and Mark Few) Will Run Into Each Other Quite A Bit This Season
Will San Francisco re-write history? The established template for success at the mid-major level is consistency: Keeping your players around for four or five years so experience will trump the athleticism of superior teams whose players jump to the NBA. San Francisco has turned that template on its head since the end of last season, watching eight members of its 2011-12 roster head for the exits (nine if you count reserve senior guard Jay Wey). Outstanding seniors Rashad Green and Angelo Caloiaro were already out the door because of graduation, but Rex Walters could look forward to having sturdy post man Perris Blackwell and shooting guard Michael Williams back to anchor this year’s team along with starting point guard Cody Doolin. But when Blackwell and Williams caught exit fever and little-used reserves Khalil Murphy, Avery Johnson, Charles Standifer and Justin Raffington joined them, the Dons’ roster was severely depleted. Walters didn’t spend a lot of time bemoaning his fate, going on an energetic recruiting mission to fill the holes. But this year’s Dons will be an interesting experiment in how well a mid-major program can get back on track with a large-scale roster turnover. The Dons last season reached the 20-win mark for the first time in thirty years, but it will be a big surprise if they match that in 2012-13.
Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Washington State Cougars.
Strengths: This category starts and ends with senior forward Brock Motum. The Australian lefty led the Pac-12 in scoring in 2011-12 and took home the title of most improved player in the conference, but it will be interesting to see how he performs without the team’s best guard to draw some attention on the perimeter. Motum was able to handle just about any big man in league play last year, taking opponents both inside and out. He became famous for some incredible, off-balance jumpers, reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki with some of his shots. With the dismissal of Reggie Moore, Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge will start the year at combo guard. Big things are expected of the former Jayhawk, who may just be the best shooter Washington State can put on the roster.
Weaknesses: Behind Motum and Woolridge, it’s tough to look at the Cougars and point out a guy that oozes confidence. Sure, guys like DaVonté Lacy and D.J. Shelton are solid athletes, but it’s going to be a long year when you’re counting on them for big-time production. Ken Bone does have some interesting newcomers to play around with, but what roles they fit into and how much they can immediately contribute will be tough to figure out. Gillette Junior College transfer James Hunter looks to be a banger that will start the year at power forward, but the Cougs are awfully thin after that for someone who can bang on the glass. Shelton and Hunter better not be on the bench at the same time, because things could get ugly down there for Wazzu.
James Hunter (15) Will Have To Avoid The Bench In 2012-13 For The Cougars To Have A Rebounding Presence In The Post (credit: Gillette College)
Non-Conference Tests: The Cougars will face four stiff non-conference tests this season, three of which will all come in a row away from home in late November. Washington State will travel to Malibu to face Pepperdine on November 16, and while the Waves might struggle this season, not many teams venture into Firestone Fieldhouse and come out with an easy win. Just three days later the Cougars will go into the Sprint Center and play a top 5 Kansas squad in front of what will be a 99% Jayhawk-friendly crowd. Less than 24 hours later they’ll play on the same court against either Saint Louis or Texas A&M, two teams that are at least NIT locks this season. Finally, the Cougs get a three game reprieve before having to take on in-state rival Gonzaga on December 5 in Pullman.
Each week this summer, we’re trying to ask the single biggest question about the program we’re profiling. And, as has become routine, we’ve got Adam Butler of Pachoops.com along to help us answer those questions. Without further ado, here’s the burning question facing the Oregon State program this summer.
Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson appears to be one of those coaches that brings in a highly touted recruit every once in a while, pulls a few big upsets every year, has an up-tempo offense, and will take his team to the NCAA Tournament once every six seasons or so. The question is, should this be good enough for Oregon State? Once a program that went dancing eight times from 1980 to 1990, the Beavers haven’t made it back to the NCAA Tournament since that 1989-90 campaign. What are reasonable expectations throughout this decade for Robinson, the man charged with bringing the program as close as possible to the heights reached during the 80s?
It’s Time To Reevaluate Expectations For Craig Robinson, The Head Man In Corvallis For the Last Four Seasons. Robinson Has Led His Team No Higher Than The CBI In His Tenure. (credit: Don Ryan)
Adam Butler: Sounds about like you’re describing a mid-major and that’s about the peak of expectations in Corvallis. The problem is: They don’t play other mids night-in and night-out. They play Washington and UCLA and Arizona and while that hasn’t been the most frightening lineup (along with anyone else in the conference) for the past few years, it sure isn’t Pepperdine and San Diego. This is ultimately a blessing in disguise. Robinson doesn’t need to set lofty expectations. The general resume for a major conference team to make the Tournament is pretty straight forward: 18-23 wins, RPI in the 50s or better, a couple of quality Ws, and no glaringly awful losses. That’s realistic every few seasons. But one hurdle of late has been this down conference in which there are no save-all resume games, that immediate RPI booster that drops you onto the committee’s radar. A nothing to lose victory over a Top 10 squad can go a long way in helping a team and a program, and helps to set the barometer for the conference’s lesser teams like OSU. But when there are no Top 10, let alone Top 25, programs going, it’s tough to make the Dance when the cards are already stacked against you. Ultimately, I think the overall conference up-tick will help Robinson build what can be a solid, something-to-be-proud-of program.
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the WCC.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Three Key Storylines
Ex-champs Fight Back. Gonzaga’s streak of 11 consecutive seasons with at least a share of the WCC crown came to an end last year as Saint Mary’s won both the regular season title and the WCC Tournament. How will the Zags react as a challenger rather than defending champion? Is Saint Mary’s for real or just a pretender? This is the key storyline for the WCC heading into the 2012-13 season. Gonzaga answers with a strong returning lineup boasting conference leaders Elias Harris at strong forward and dual freshmen sensations Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. at the guard spots. Rather than miss the graduated Robert Sacre, Zag partisans insist more playing time for Sam Dower will equal more production in the post. Saint Mary’s answers with a possibly even stronger backcourt of Olympics hero Matt Dellavedova and defensive terror Stephen Holt. The Gaels will have a rebuilt front line anchored by redshirt sophomore Brad Waldow and transfer forward Matt Hodgson, and looks forward to proving last year’s title was no fluke.
These WCC Stars Will Determine the Storyline of the 2012-13 Season
Revamp or Disaster? San Francisco coach Rex Walters was consistently cool when asked about the unsettling defection of six players from his roster following last season’s disappointing season (8-8, fifth place in WCC). For the most part he knew they were leaving, Walters said, and he has replaced them with players of equal or better value. Maybe, but any time a team loses its top four scorers (Angelo Caloiaro, Perris Blackwell, Rashad Green and Michael Williams) and returns only two players with significant game experience – Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson – it puts tremendous pressure on the newcomers. Of the many new faces on the Hilltop, former UCLA recruit De’End Parker, recently cleared to participate in the upcoming season, looks to be the Dons’ best bet for stardom.
Broncos Healthy Again. Things could not possibly have gone worse for Santa Clara last year – really, they lost all 16 conference games – so maybe karmic forces are aligned to bring the Broncos salvation. MarcTrasolini, the hard-nosed 6’9″ forward who was looked upon to provide senior leadership, instead tore his ACL in the preseason. Outstanding shooting guard Kevin Foster was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence following a Bronco home loss to Saint Mary’s, and never returned to action. With Trasolini and Foster back this season, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating should smile more. Keating will also have improving 7-foot center Robert Garrett and slick point guard Evan Roquemore back in the fold, so the Broncos have a solid foundation for success
Washington State released their 2012-13 schedule a week and a half ago, and while dates and opponents are finalized, all but seven times still need to be set. Today we’ll take a quick look at their slate and figure out which games we’re most excited about.
Click To Enlarge
Early-Season Tournament: After five fake games in Australia, then one real fake game against Saint Martin’s, the Cougars will play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic to start the regular season. Washington State should roll over its first two opponents in the regional round, Eastern Washington and Utah Valley, but they are placed into the Championship Round no matter what happens in the first two games. Unfortunately for the Cougs, they draw the toughest opponent in Kansas for their first game, only made tougher by the fact that the games in this round will be played in Kansas City. They will face either Saint Louis or Texas A&M in the Championship or Consolation game, two teams that match up well with Wazzu. Overall, this will be a good way to start off the year. They should be able to snatch three wins, and playing a top-five team in a virtual road game will impress the selection committee come March.
Toughest Non-conference Game: Kansas without question. The Jayhawks return Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson and will add four incoming freshman who will be ready to contribute immediately and ease the losses of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Guard Royce Woolridge will get a chance to play against his former team in this one. It will be just his fourth regular season game after transferring from Kansas.
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
The Final Week
It all comes down to this week, WCC fans: Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, BYU and Loyola Marymount all have legitimate shots at the conference title and the one and two seeds for next week’s WCC Tournament. In an age where parity is the Holy Grail of organized sports, the WCC has it going on. And, although this season’s nine-team schedule caused some distortions in the first half of the season, no one could have planned a more compelling finale.
Saint Mary’s can seize the regular season championship and a number one tournament seed by beating Portland tonight in Portland and San Francisco on Saturday in San Francisco. By beating Portland, the Gaels will guarantee at least their second consecutive share of the title. But there has to be a series of asterisks next to that hypothetical, as the Gaels are bucking several negative trends: they have lost at Portland for the last three years and they appear to stumbling toward the finish line as they did last year when they lost an unexpected league game (San Diego in San Diego), a home BracketBuster game against Utah State, then another home game against Gonzaga, before pulling out a season-ending victory over Portland to earn a share of the conference title.
Despite Recent Struggles, Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary's Still Control Its Own Destiny (AP)
Last week the Gaels lost an unexpected home game to Loyola Marymount, 75-60, lost to Murray State on the road, 65-51, in another BracketBuster contest, and now face a young, talented Portland team with nothing to lose on its home court tonight. Combined with injuries to starting two-guard Stephen Holt, out indefinitely with a torn meniscus suffered in the LMU loss, starting post man Brad Waldow, nursing bruised ribs, and team leader Matthew Dellavedova, who turned his ankle in the LMU game, the Gaels are wobbling into Portland.
Gonzaga and BYU square off tonight in a monumental battle (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) that could vault either of them into a tie with Saint Mary’s for first or, if the Gaels win, eliminate one of them from title contention heading into Saturday’s final games. LMU, which is smoking hot coming off its blistering of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, sits at home for very winnable games against San Diego tonight and Santa Clara on Saturday. With just a minimal effort, the Lions could finish with four losses and cash in on whatever misfortunes befall the three teams ahead of them.
Not to be overlooked, San Francisco hopes to take continuing advantage of a scheduling gift that brought BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s onto its home court in successive weeks. The Dons battled BYU right down to a potential game-winning three-point attempt by Angelo Coloiaro that rimmed out at the buzzer for a heart-breaking 85-84 loss last Thursday. Rather than be deflated, the Dons battled Gonzaga equally hard on Saturday, and triumphed 65-64 on a last-second runner in the lane by Rashad Green. The Dons are off tonight and can devote maximum preparation to ruining Saint Mary’s season on Saturday.
Saint Mary’s (23-5, 12-2) might seem surprised to find itself still in first place considering the confidence-shattering losses to LMU and Murray State, which knocked it out of “lock” status for a favorable seeding in the NCAA tournament and leaves the Gaels needing a win tonight or Saturday to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Randy Bennett’s troops are wounded and have to be wondering why they continue to struggle late in the season. Even with these concerns, the Gaels still control their own fate. Read the rest of this entry »
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.