CIO… the West Coast ConferencePosted by CNguon on February 4th, 2013
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
The Road Ahead — With the Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s stranglehold on the top two spots in the WCC becoming more evident every week, the question arises whether either of them has an edge down the home stretch. The Gaels have a more difficult task because they are a game behind the Zags, so it has to count on a win over Gonzaga at home and running the table on the rest of the conference to earn a tie. To gain a repeat of their outright WCC title, Saint Mary’s must hope that Gonzaga stumbles once more in addition to losing in Moraga. How likely is this scenario?
- The Gaels have seven games left, four on the road and three at home. Certainly wins at Santa Clara, San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine are not guaranteed, but the Saint Mary’s schedule is more favorable than the Zags’. The Gaels will face Gonzaga and BYU on successive Thursdays, February 14 and February 21, on the cozy McKeon Pavilion floor where they easily handled both last year (98-82 over BYU and 83-62 over Gonzaga). A 15-1 mark is not out of the Gaels’ reach.
- Gonzaga would seem to have an advantage in that five of its remaining eight games are at home, and none of those should present a serious challenge. However, the Zags’ three remaining road games are troublesome because they lost to all three opponents – Saint Mary’s, BYU and San Francisco – last year. The Thursday-Saturday (February 14-16) Bay Area match-ups against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco are particularly troublesome because Gonzaga has lost to San Francisco three years in a row at War Memorial Gymnasium, was thumped by the Gaels in Moraga last year, and barely squeaked by them at home last month (83-78). And, despite its glittering 21-2 record and high RPI and national ranking, Gonzaga has struggled on the road several times this year: In an early-season win over Washington State (71-69), a loss at Butler (64-63), and last week’s nail-biting win over San Diego (65-63). As a wise man once said, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings and she hasn’t even cleared her throat yet.
- Gonzaga (8-0, 21-2): It wasn’t easy for the Zags to remain undefeated for the first half of the conference season and become the first team in the nation to reach 21 victories, as they found themselves trailing lowly San Diego 55-53 with 9:26 remaining and tied at 59-all with 4:54 on the clock.
Successive layups by Kelly Olynyk and a clutch drive and finish by David Stockton gave them a cushion to withstand a final Toreros push.
- Saint Mary’s (8-1, 19-4): After sweating out a tense 67-63 road win over San Francisco and its tenacious defensive pressure, the Gaels relaxed with a 77-42 laugher against struggling Portland in Moraga. Finding his three-point stroke after a conference season-long absence, Matthew Dellavedova hit four threes in the first half en route to a game-high 23 points.
- BYU (8-2, 18-6): Still hovering around the conference leaders, BYU rebounded from a narrow win (63-61) over Pepperdine in Malibu to snuff out Santa Clara’s hopes for a rise in the conference standings with a resounding 96-79 win in the Marriott Center. The Santa Clara game looked like the old joke about one side bringing a switchblade to a gunfight, as the Broncos played as if they felt their backcourt combo of Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore could outscore BYU’s tandem of Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws. Bad idea, as Carlino went for a season-high 28 and Haws chipped in a normal 24 to lead the Cougars.
- Santa Clara (5-4, 17-7): After trouncing Portland at home by 70-46, the Broncos were riding high heading into Provo for a showdown with BYU. Things didn’t go well in the second half for Kerry Keating’s crew, however, and now Santa Clara must prepare for its first game of the year against Saint Mary’s while feeling the hot breath of San Diego right behind it.
- San Diego (4-4, 11-12): Anyone who watched the Toreros’ listless performance in an 81-48 smackdown by Saint Mary’s on the road and a 64-50 loss to Santa Clara at home would not have figured on a strong effort against Gonzaga. However, the Toreros’ Mighty Mite guard combo of Christopher Anderson (5’7”) and Johnny Dee (5’11”) were fearless in penetrating the Zags’ fearsome frontcourt and almost pulled off one of the season’s biggest upsets. Don’t count out the Toreros in the second half of the season.
- San Francisco (3-7, 10-13): Just when you think the Dons are done for the year after losses to Gonzaga on the road and Saint Mary’s at home they come up with a big win like Saturday’s 86-78 win over Pepperdine in Malibu. The Dons celebrated the return of Cole Dickerson to the spotlight, as the rugged forward combined eleven rebounds with a game-high 28 points to top all scorers.
- Pepperdine (2-7, 10-12): Close only counts in horseshoes, as Marty Wilson undoubtedly heard many times in the past week, but, still, the Waves’ effort in narrow losses to BYU and San Francisco gave evidence that Pepperdine is going to fight all the way to the end of the season.
- Loyola Marymount (1-7, 8-13): The same cannot be said for LMU, however, as the Lions have not shown much fight in a long time, particularly in last week’s home losses to Pepperdine (60-57) and Gonzaga (80-43).
- Portland (1-8, 8-16): Portland battles hard but Eric Reveno’s crew doesn’t have the horses to challenge many teams in the WCC, as losses to Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s, in which the Pilots failed to score at least 50 points, demonstrated.
- Saint Mary’s precarious road to a third straight WCC title takes the Gaels to Santa Clara on Thursday, where a testy Broncos squad figures to be seeking redemption after losing to BYU. After facing Santa Clara, the Gaels go to another hostile environment to face the suddenly spunky San Diego Toreros.
- Also on Thursday, BYU becomes the first team to face San Diego in the Slim Gym after it scared the bejesus out of Gonzaga; LMU gives Portland its best hope for a win in a long time with a game at the Chiles Center; and Pepperdine limps into Spokane to face Gonzaga. It might not be pretty.
- The Saturday slate takes Saint Mary’s to San Diego, Pepperdine to Portland, LMU to Gonzaga and San Francisco to BYU.