Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Conference Roars Back: Five minutes into the second half of last Saturday’s Duke-Santa Clara game Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might have had a passing thought along the lines of, “Who are these guys?” His undefeated and number-one-ranked Blue Devils were trailing Santa Clara, 45-44, and the Duke coach would have had a hard time believing this was the same Santa Clara squad that went 0-16 in the WCC last year. What kind of conference produces a last-place team that can threaten the Dukies on their home court, Coach K might have wondered. Duke’s fears eased, as a disastrous flagrant foul by Santa Clara’s Yannick Atanga on Miles Plumlee produced a five-point turnaround that put Duke up 49-44 and led them to a 90-77 win. Santa Clara’s bold attack on the Durham fortress remained on Krzyzewski’s mind afterwards, however, as he remarked, “This was like a February ACC game.” Indeed, Santa Clara’s gutty effort epitomized a strong week for the WCC, as it completed its non-conference season with an 80-44 mark (.645 winning percentage). Gonzaga led the way with strong wins over Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road on Monday to burnish a 13-1 record and No. 13 national ranking. Saint Mary’s completed a sweep of the Ivy League with a last-second 70-69 win over Harvard also on Monday following a 78-62 win over Yale, and BYU ran away from Virginia Tech 91-71 behind 42 points from Tyler Haws, the WCC Player of the Week.
Even in a loss, Kevin Foster and company were tremendous (Getty)
Pangos Bangos: If not for Haws’ outburst against Virginia Tech, the talk of the conference would certainly have been Kevin Pangos’ 31-point effort against Baylor. Last year’s Golden Boy was slumping heading into the showdown with Baylor, scoring under the 10 PPG mark and shooting just 38 percent. But Baylor seemingly forgot what Gonzaga’s foes from last year have surely learned – you can’t leave Pangos alone beyond the three-point line. He drilled the Bears at a 10-of-13 rate, including 7-of-10 from long distance.
Gonzaga (13-1): All systems are go for the Zags to reclaim the WCC title they surrendered last year to Saint Mary’s, as Mark Few’s squad completed its most impressive non-conference slate in several years. Kelly Olynyk has returned from a redshirt year reinvigorated, providing the Zags’ frontcourt an unexpected boost – as if it needed one. With senior Elias Harris providing steady excellence (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG), Olynyk chipping in at 14.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG and the Zags’ backcourt coming alive as evidenced by Pangos’ 31 points against Baylor, this is the WCC’s most complete team heading into conference play.
Kelly Olynyk (right) and Gonzaga head into conference play as the likely favorite (AP)
Saint Mary’s (11-3): It has not been so smooth for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, as losses to underwhelming Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa have revealed flaws in the Saint Mary’s offense. Matthew Dellavedova’s scoring (18.5 PPG) and assist numbers (6.3 APG) are excellent, but teams have been able to keep him from hurting them. Bennett has cobbled together a two-part solution to the power forward spot vacated by Rob Jones, getting a combined output of more than 16 PPG and 10 RPG out of Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque, but it is not as smooth as last year. The Gaels’ salvation may prove to be its excellent guard foursome of Dellavedova, Stephen Holt (11.3 PPG), James Walker III (9.8 PPG) and Jorden Page (8.3 PPG), but they need redshirt sophomore post man Brad Waldow (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) to step up every night if they are to defend their title. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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 returns four players who were part of the rotation last year, highlighted by Brock Motum – a preseason candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year – but also extending down to a guard that is back for his senior season after leading the team in minutes per game, a sophomore shooting guard primed to build off a solid freshman campaign, and yet another guard who will probably enjoy a similar role to what he saw last year. We’ll go through all of those guys below, in order of last year’s scoring totals.
Brock Motum Will Be The Key To Any Cougar Success In 2012-13
Brock Motum, Senior, Forward (18.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.4 BPG) – After a quiet first two seasons at Washington State, Motum exploded onto the scene in 2012-13. The junior forward took on the minutes left by departing senior DeAngelo Casto, and he showed the Cougar coaching staff immediately what he could do with them. From the very beginning of the year, he introduced a new style of game to the team’s offense. Motum led the team in scoring in the Cougars’ first two games, dropping 17 in a nationally televised contest at Gonzaga, and 23 in their second game against Sacramento State. He took on a “point-center” type role, one where the big man could handle the ball up top and act as a triple threat against opponents. His ability to drive and hit a pull-up jumper made him one of the toughest forwards to defend in the Pac-12, evident by his 18.0 PPG, the conference’s best. Not only a threat to score, but also a force on the glass, Motum pulled down a very respectable 6.4 RPG. Those two feats combined earned him the title of “Most Improved Player” in the Pac-12. Some of Motum’s critics will say he took a lot of defenses by surprise last season, but the truth is, the Cougars were just a tough team to defend. With Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore able to score the ball consistently, Motum was bound to get a few extra looks a game. And he took advantage, making him one of the deadliest players in the league.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
Showdown in Las Vegas
So, it’s decided but it’s really not. Saint Mary’s closed out the WCC regular season with a tough 67-60 victory over San Francisco on the road, earning an undisputed conference championship for the first time since the 1989 squad coached by Lynn Nance. The Gaels tied Gonzaga for the regular-season title last year – the Zags’ 11th straight WCC championship – and needed a win over San Francisco to avoid another tie this year. They got it, but not without a dogged fight from the Dons, who closed out the season with home games against the conference’s top three teams – BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. They made them all pay, losing narrowly to BYU (85-84), edging Gonzaga, 66-65, and giving Saint Mary’s all they could handle before a frantic home crowd.
The WCC Tournament beginning Wednesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will have a lot to say about how many conference members advance to the NCAA Tournament, and, almost as important, where they will play and how high they are seeded. The tournament champion receives the automatic NCAA bid, but almost all commentators agree that both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will receive bids no matter what happens in Las Vegas. The same cannot be said for BYU, however, so the Cougars’ need to make a strong showing in Las Vegas – perhaps even win the championship – in one of the compelling stories that will play out over the weekend.
Can Saint Mary's Earn The Automatic Bid Into The Big Dance? Conference POY Matthew Dellavedova Will Have A Huge Say In That (AP)
Others revolve around the conference’s mystery team, Loyola Marymount, and whether San Francisco can maintain the fierce defensive intensity it displayed down the stretch at home with days off between games. The Dons’ road to a high tournament finish requires victories on Thursday against the winner of a play-in game between Portland and Santa Clara, a Friday win against a Loyola team that beat them twice in the regular season, then a semifinal contest on Saturday against the Gaels, who also beat them twice in conference. Not an easy path.
Loyola is in a better position to wreak havoc than San Francisco. Earning a first-round tournament bye with its fourth-place conference finish, the Lions play first on Friday against the winner of the San Francisco/play-in winner game. If it’s a rematch with the Dons, tournament fans will see San Francisco take a third shot at a win that eluded them in two excruciatingly close conference games – a 77-76 overtime loss at home that saw LMU erase a 17-point second-half deficit, and a 90-88 loss in Los Angeles in which LMU had to come from 16 points down. The Dons desperately want another shot at the Lions, and feel they finished stronger than LMU because of their tough battles with the league leaders and LMU’s less-than-overwhelming finish: an inexplicable 60-57 loss to San Diego and a 68-65 nail-biter win against Santa Clara, which was winless in conference play.
Figuring out the psyche of Max Good’s squad would challenge a team of Freuds, however, as the Lions bounced back and forth between helpless – a 76-63 home loss to North Texas – and sublime – a 75-60 upset of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, the Gaels’ only home loss all season. One of the Lions’ quirks is they play better on the road than at home, so maybe a trip to Las Vegas is just what Dr. Freud would order. If they do, indeed, meet and beat San Francisco in the quarterfinals, they will move on to another encounter with Saint Mary’s in Saturday’s first semifinal game (6:00 PM PT, ESPN2). That the Gaels would like another shot at LMU goes without saying, as that loss cost them both a lofty national ranking and injuries to guard StephenHolt, whose return from a torn meniscus is still undecided, center Brad Waldow, who re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit out much of the action, and even indestructible guard MatthewDellavedova, who turned an ankle and left the game for several minutes in the second half.
Who Us? Rex Walters and USF Are Playing Great Basketball (Comcast Sports Net)
BYU’s path to a possible tournament championship takes them through a quarterfinal match with the winner of a San Diego-Pepperdine contest and a semifinal rematch with Gonzaga, with whom they split regular-season games. BYU was without outstanding forward Noah Hartsock (knee injury) for all but the first seven minutes of the second Gonzaga game on Feb. 23, a 74-63 loss. Hartsock also sat out BYU’s final conference game, a 76-66 win over Portland, and his status for Las Vegas has not been announced. With Hartsock in the lineup, a BYU-Gonzaga rematch in Saturday’s second semifinal match (ESPN2, 8:oo PM PT) could be a classic, but we’ll have to wait to see whether Hartsock can go.
As for the championship game on Monday night (6:00 PM PT, ESPN), it has featured Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the last three years (Gonzaga won two of the three), and a similar match-up would surprise no one. It would be a rubber game, as the teams split in conference play, and could determine whether either team receives a favorable or dicey NCAA seeding.
Here’s how the 2011-12 WCC season ended up:
Saint Mary’s (25-5, 14-2).
Gonzaga (23-5, 13-3).
BYU (24-7, 12-4)
Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5)
San Francisco (18-12, 8-8)
San Diego (12-1, 7-9)
Pepperdine (10-18, 4-12)
Portland (6-23, 3-13)
Santa Clara (8-21, 0-16)
For the second year in a row a Saint Mary’s guard is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. This time it is Matthew Dellavedova, the 6’4″ junior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, who led the conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was third in scoring (16.4 PPG). The Gaels’ Mickey McConnell rated the POY nod last year, and not many observers of the conference would bet against Dellavedova repeating in 2013. In addition to his conference honors, Dellavedova is a finalist in the Bob Cousy Award competition for the nation’s best point guard. Last week, he was named a Capital One Academic All-American, the first Saint Mary’s player to be so honored.
While the choice of Dellavedova raised no eyebrows, selecting Max Good of Loyola Marymount as coach of the year might – even among Loyola fans and alumni. Good has been on the hot seat at LMU ever since last year’s team – picked to compete for conference honors – finished in last place at 2-12. While not ducking his share of blame for the team’s collapse, Good insisted that without crippling injuries his team would have been much better. The Lions weathered some early-season injuries – most notably to All-Conference Forward Drew Viney and his front court mate Ashley Hamilton – and, indeed, did do better this year, finishing fourth in the conference with an 11-5 mark. Along the way, LMU posted wins over UCLA, St. Louis and Valparaiso in non-conference play and over BYU and Saint Mary’s in conference. Good’s fellow coaches – who make the conference honors selections – evidently believe in redemption.
Other individual honors announced by the WCC on Tuesday were Defensive Player of the Year to Gonzaga’s 7’0” senior center Robert Sacre, whose 25 blocks led the league; and WCC Newcomer of the Year to Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos, whose deadly three-point shooting accounted for 12.8 PPG and 36 three-point field goals. The WCC All-conference team is composed of:
Angelo Caloiaro, San Francisco
Brandon Davies, BYU
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
Elias Harris, Gonzaga
Noah Hartsock, BYU
Anthony Ireland, Loyola
Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
Drew Viney, Loyola
The conference all-freshman team:
Gary Bell, Jr, Gonzaga
Matt Carlino, BYU
Johnny Dee, San Diego
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
Honorable mention was accorded to Perris Blackwell, center, San Francisco; Carlino and Dee; Rashad Green, guard, San Francisco; Stephen Holt, guard, Saint Mary’s; and Corbin Moore, center, Pepperdine.
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.