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Crumpacker - What We Learned - Dec. 7, 2015

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist 

All this and Bill Walton in a tie dye T-shirt mopping the court.

Wasn’t that a hoot, seeing the old hippie hoopster taking up the mop during Sunday afternoon’s basketball carnival at Petco Park in San Diego, where the San Diego Toreros and San Diego State Aztecs went topless to play a game?

Even better, for the Toreros and the West Coast Conference, coach Lamont Smith’s team hung on valiantly late in the second half to defeat the high-profile Aztecs 53-48 despite scoring only seven points in the final 7:35.

It was San Diego’s first win over San Diego State since 2005 after nine straight losses.

I applaud the powers that be that figured taking the game outdoors at an erstwhile baseball park and adding amusement rides and other attractions might generate more attention than playing it in some anonymous gym. It did.

In fact, I wish more schools had the vision to dress up games and take them outdoors and play them at places where basketball games are rarely, if ever, played. It’s all about the entertainment value these days. This can’t be done everywhere, of course, due to cold and inclement weather in many parts of the country.

But this is the West Coast Conference we’re talking about, an area of mild winters for most of the member institutions. The San Diego-San Diego State game got me thinking about the possibility of other WCC teams playing at outdoor venues.

Could Pepperdine find a stretch of sand in Malibu big enough to set up a court and temporary bleachers? Just wondering.

How about Loyola Marymount playing a game at Dodger Stadium, with Clayton Kershaw throwing out the first ball from a spot 60 feet, 6 inches away to an official? Picture it.

With all that tech money pouring into San Francisco, perhaps the Dons could arrange for a game to be played on a pier along the Embarcadero. I see Steph Curry dribbling two balls at once at center court prior to the jump ball.

Likewise, Pacific might be able to use Banner Island Ballpark, home of the minor league baseball Stockton Ports. The facility along the city’s waterfront has 4,200 permanent seats, making it perfect, or reasonably so, for a basketball game.

Depending on the weather in the Wasatch Range, a basketball-football “doubleheader’’ might not be out of the question at BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium. I envision a basketball game taking place in mid-November at noon followed by a football game at 7 p.m., giving workers time to break down and haul away the court and get ready for football. I have no idea how long such a transition might take but I do know that before anything can be achieved, it has to be imagined first. At least that’s what Thomas Edison used to say to George Foreman when he went looking for help on his various inventions.

Last and least likely, how about the Great Alaska Shootout holding a game on a heated outdoor court complete with heated benches for the players and heat lamps to keep the spectators from freezing? I’m envisioning sled dog teams bringing the head coaches to the edge of the court prior to jump ball. You’ve already seen him in cargo pants and jungle boots, wouldn’t you love to see Gonzaga coach Mark Few in a parka and mukluks, taking off a Gore-Tex glove to shake hands with his opposite number? Mush!     

Back to reality now, this is What We Learned from a busy non-conference week of games:

  1. Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule will pay off in tight games later in the season against worthy opponents. The Zags might not be as potent as they were a year ago (it’s tough to improve upon 35-3, after all) and they have already lost two games, to nationally ranked Texas A&M and Arizona, but the experience of being in both of those games until the end will not be wasted.
  2. Saint Mary’s might have built its 6-0 record on the strength of six home games, but it’s paying off. The Gaels are one of only 13 undefeated Division I schools and they received votes in this week’s USA Today poll. More important, Saint Mary’s RPI ranking this week is 20, ahead of Kentucky and Gonzaga and Pac-12 teams Utah, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Stanford, Washington and Arizona. All told, Saint Mary’s has 12 of its first 14 games in Moraga. Coach Randy Bennett clearly knows what he’s doing.
  3. BYU misses prolific scorer Tyler Haws. For the last four years, the Cougars could always count on Haws for 20-25 points per game. Now that he’s exhausted his eligibility, their scoring is spread out between Kyle Collinsworth, Chase Fischer and Kyle Davis, among others.
  4. Alec Wintering is (shh!) quietly having a good season for Portland, certainly the best for any player in the conference under 6 feet. The 5-foot-11 junior is averaging 14.4 points per game, leads the conference in steals at 2.2 per and is No. 2 in assists at 6.7. The Pilots will need more of his steady play as the season progresses.

Tweet of the week
This heartfelt message from USF coach Rex Walters:

2 all the Dons MBB Fans, last night was a very tough one 2 take. I get it & it hurt me more than you know. However, we will get & do better.

Stat line of the week
In a 78-75 win over San Jose State, Santa Clara’s Nate Kratch scored 29 points, on 13-of-15 shooting, to go with 12 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. The 6-6 junior forward scored three buckets in the final 2:21 to help the Broncos win their second game of the season. For the last three games Kratch has made 24 of 29 field goal attempts, .828 percent.

Quote of the week
“Top to bottom from our coaches, they had a great game plan for us. We executed and it showed.”
That’s San Diego’s junior forward, Brett Bailey, talking about the Toreros’ 53-48 win over San Diego State.

Follow the three dots
Does any conference in the country have more capable Kyles than the WCC? Gonzaga’s Wiltjer leads the league in scoring at 21.3 points per game, BYU’s Davis is tops in rebounding at 10.9 per and BYU’s Collinsworth gets more done in 31.7 minutes per game than anyone with 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. … Eight WCC players are shooting 80 percent or better from the free throw line, topped by, you guessed it, a Kyle – Wiltjer at .889. … If the WCC has a Most Improved Player, the early favorite might be Saint Mary’s sophomore guard Emmett Naar. He’s averaging 16.5 points, 6.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game and is shooting .621 percent overall and an impressive .640 from 3-point range. Those are fair dinkum stats for the Aussie. … All’s right with the basketball world. San Diego’s Jito Kok tops the conference in blocked shots at 2.4 per game. Rejected! … Nice to see that Loyola Marymount appears to be an improved team in coach (and alum) Mike Dunlap’s second season in Los Angeles. The Lions have already won five games (with three defeats) in 2015-16 whereas last year’s team finished 8-23.

 John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.