Checking In On… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2012
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
- Along with greater strength at the top through the addition of Brigham Young, the WCC was supposed to exhibit league-wide improvement in 2011-12. At least in the early stages of conference play, that hasn’t happened. In fact, the gap between the haves and the have-nots appears to be widening.
- Opening games in WCC play found Gonzaga throttling Portland at home by a score of 90-51, Saint Mary’s skunking Pepperdine in Malibu by 74-45 and BYU beating San Diego at home by 88-52. That’s an average beat-down of 35 points, not indicative of a conference trending toward parity. In games not involving the league’s Big Three of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU, Pepperdine beat San Francisco at home by a score of 77-61 and Loyola Marymount also topped San Francisco in overtime by 77-76. Completing a week of total futility, San Francisco’s loss to Loyola came on its home court.
- Santa Clara spent last week splitting games in its own Cable Car Classic, topping Eastern Michigan by 77-55 and losing to Wagner 64-62 in a game so surreal it deserves a paragraph of its own (see below). Santa Clara is one of the WCC teams thought to be gaining in stature, but will have to wait until tonight to taste its first league action against Portland in Portland. The Broncos have given fans equal reason to have hopes for resurgence or despair in non-conference play, balancing wins over New Mexico and Villanova with losses to Washington State (93-55 – it was the margin of defeat not the opponent that made this one sting) and Houston Baptist (72-71). The Broncos do not have a road win this year, giving Portland hopes for a chance to stop its own bleeding in tonight’s game.
- Saint Mary’s (13-2 overall, 2-0 in WCC play): Continued its post-Baylor rise with an eye-opening throbbing of BYU in Moraga by the unlikely score of 98-82, then followed up with a thorough dispatch of Pepperdine, which may have harbored hopes of an upset after beating San Francisco by 16 in its league opener. Close observers of the Gaels concede strong games every outing from senior forward Rob Jones (14.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG) and junior point guard Matthew Dellavedova (14.3 PPG, 6.5 APG), but say lesser-known players Clint Steindl, Stephen Holt and Jorden Page must step up if the Gaels are to be an NCAA team. They’re stepping, as Holt has had games of 16, 21 and 14 points since a relatively quiet performance against Baylor, and Page has had three double-digit outings of his own (10, 13 and 14 points) over the same span. Steindl hasn’t been stepping anywhere since turning an ankle against Missouri State.
- Gonzaga (11-2 overall, 1-0): Made one of its patented detours to Cincinnati following its drubbing of Portland, becoming the first team to face Xavier since its many suspended players returned to action. The Zags got a career day out of reserve forward Sam Dower, who racked up 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Zags over the re-united but still stumbling Musketeers by a score of 72-65. Dower, coming on at just the right time as starting center Robert Sacre nurses a dislocated thumb back to full strength, has scored in double figures in five of the Zags’ last six games, going 30-for-46 in that span.
- BYU (12-4 overall, 1-1): Gathered itself after the rude welcome to WCC play provided by Saint Mary’s to spank Bill Grier’s San Diego team before the usual adoring crowd in the Marriott Center (although only 15,000 turned out in the 22,000-seat arena). Junior forward Brandon Davies has out-performed even Dower in the last several games, earning WCC Player of the Week honors for his efforts against Saint Mary’s and San Diego. Davies has done a little bit of everything – and a lot of scoring – in recent games: To go along with a career-high 28 points against Saint Mary’s, he also latched onto five steals; against the Toreros he pulled in 22 rebounds while scoring 21 points – the first 20/20 game for a BYU player in more than 35 years.
- San Francisco (9-6 overall, 0-2): It seems odd to put the Dons in fourth place after their less-than-auspicious first week of conference play: a loss on the road followed by one at home. Looking at an 0-2 record before playing the conference top dogs cannot be reassuring to Rex Walters’ crew, but they were a late bloomer last year and may prove to be the same this year. They did come back in the second half against Loyola, erasing a 20-point deficit to send the game into overtime on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Michael Williams.
- Santa Clara (8-5 overall, 0-0): Is a bit of an oddball because it has not yet played a conference game. The Broncos will show whether the bizarre loss to Wagner shook them up or if they are made of stronger stuff by their showing tonight in Portland. The loss to a good Wagner team (10-3, with a road win over Pittsburgh) went beyond unusual to a special category of weird. A last-second shot by Wagner’s Tyler Murray with the game tied 62-62 bounded high over the backboard and seemed to be heading toward the out-of-bounds line. Wagner’s Kenny Ortiz caught the rebound and in the same motion flipped a prayer from behind the backboard. Incredibly, Ortiz’ shot found its way through the basket and the refereeing crew deemed it good. Game over, Wagner won 64-62 and Santa Clara stumbled off the Leavey Center court in a state of shock. Here’s a link to video of the game-ending play (As someone once said, “You make the call”).
- Loyola Marymount (8-6 overall, 1-0): Showed both why you can love them and why you can hate them in their overtime win over San Francisco. For the first half the Lions looked like a talented, tight team with none of the flakiness often associated with them. Oft-injured forward Drew Viney was back in the lineup, and, along with 6’5″, 240-lb freshman forward C.J. Blackwell, the Lions were shooting the lights out (56%), leading 37-20 at the break. As the second half got underway, LMU abandoned all the good traits it had shown in the first and began playing sloppily. San Francisco slowly closed the scoring gap, which spread to 20, and when it sensed Loyola as vulnerable, sprang a full-court press. The results were dramatic, as the Lions answer to full-court pressure turned out to be giving the ball to its talented point guard Anthony Ireland and letting him deal single-handedly with San Francisco’s pressure. The predicable turnovers ensued, San Francisco crept ever closer and tied it at the very end of regulation. That LMU pulled out a narrow win in overtime didn’t fully redeem its dismal second-half performance.
- San Diego (5-8 overall, 0-1): May feel the scheduling gods are against them, sending them first to Provo to open the WCC season against BYU, then bringing them back home to face the sizzling Saint Mary’s Gaels tonight (ESPNU 6:00 PM Pacific). Maybe the Toreros can duplicate last-season’s surprising upset of Saint Mary’s, a blow that marked the beginning of the Gaels’ downward trajectory that took them out of NCAA Tournament consideration.
- Portland (3-11 overall, 0-1): Has a shot at ending its seven-game losing streak against Santa Clara tonight. The Broncos should provide a better gauge of the Pilots’ chances in conference play than its one-sided loss at Gonzaga did.
- Tonight’s marquee match-up is BYU versus Loyola in Los Angeles. The steady Cougars of Dave Rice will provide a good comparison to Max Good’s erratic-but-talented Lions. Forward Ashley Hamilton still hasn’t returned to action for Loyola, but Viney has, and Good has plenty of other horses to compete well with BYU: rugged forward Alex Osborne (6-7, 240) is slowly taking over the center position from Godwin Okonji, and Osborne’s emergence may have been one of the reasons center Edgar Garibay announced he was leaving the program this week; Blackwell, a burly 6-5 who shoots like an angel, anchors the front line for the Lions; Ireland, who dribbles too much and sometimes plays out of control, is nevertheless able to penetrate and score against the best defense. Rice has his own stable of quality players, including Davies, who is in the midst of the best run of his career, recently-activated sharpshooter Matt Carlino and veteran frontcourt standout Noah Hartsock. This one will be fun to watch (check BYU TV).
- Neither Pepperdine traveling to the rowdy McCarthey Athletic Center on the Gonzaga campus, nor Saint Mary’s heading to the Jenny Craig Center in San Diego should provide much drama, but Santa Clara versus Portland (no TV) could.