By John Crumpacker
After watching GONZAGA hang with No. 16 SMU on the road for much of the game before succumbing 69-60, it occurred to me that Domantas Sabonis should be the WCC Player of the Year.
With the athletic Mustangs refusing to let Kyle Wiltjer be the difference in the game, Sabonis stepped up and was tremendous in defeat. He did all he could to stave off defeat for the Zags with 20 points and 15 rebounds while Wiltjer was hounded throughout the game and held to four points on 2-of-15 shooting.
Sabonis’ role expanded the instant 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski was declared out for the season with back problems. He’s taken on the added responsibility like a stevedore asked to unload even more cargo on the dock. He’s currently averaging 17.5 points (sixth in the conference) and 11.7 rebounds per game (No.1) while shooting .618 from the field and converting 81 percent of his free throws.
There were plenty of NBA scouts at the game at Moody Coliseum in Dallas and while they had to be disappointed in what they saw of Wiltjer as he was flummoxed into having his worst game of the season, Sabonis surely rose in their estimation of him as a prospect. At 6-foot-11, Sabonis takes on all comers as a rebounder and with his deft left hand, he’s improved and polished his offensive game.
This could be Sabonis’ last season in Spokane if he chooses to make himself available for the NBA draft. Wiltjer and Karnowski, both seniors, will be gone after the season and Sabonis could join them.
There are several other worthy candidates for Player of the Year, including Wiltjer, Alec Wintering of PORTLAND, Kyle Collinsworth of BYU and Emmett Naar of SAINT MARY’S, but my vote, if I had one, goes to Sabonis the Stevedore, gladly shouldering the load for Gonzaga.
As the conference race rounds third and heads toward home, to borrow from another sport, here’s What We Learned from last week’s games:
Stat line of the week
There are shooting guards, shooting guards and then there is Nick Emery. Like Jared Brownridge of SANTA CLARA, he must have been born under a green light with a tiny basketball in his hands.
In BYU’s 114-89 victory over San Francisco on Thursday, the 6-foot-2 freshman hit 12 of 15 shots overall, including 10 of 12 from behind the arc, and made all three of his free throws to finish with 37 points in 33 minutes. Two days later, in his team’s 96-62 rout of Santa Clara, Emery converted 13 of 21 field goal attempts (3 of 8 on three-pointers), and both free throws for 31 points in 30 minutes.
For the two Bay Area road games, Emery made good on 25 of 36 shots from the field – 13 of 20 on three-pointers – and was 5-for-5 from the free throw line for 68 points in 63 minutes. For good measure he also had 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal in the two games.
Emery stands out on the court not only for his prolific scoring. He wears a long-sleeved undershirt beneath his BYU jersey, white when the Cougars are at home and blue when they are on the road. He’s currently No. 2 in scoring for BYU at 16.1 points per game, behind the 18.6 of Chase Fischer, another prodigious scorer for the top-scoring team in the WCC.
Emery’s older brother Jackson also played at BYU, from 2005-06 and ‘08-11 and graduated as the program’s career leader in steals. So, one brother gives while the other takes. Perfect.
Quote of the week
“It’s energy going into the next game. It builds confidence. We learned a lot from our mistakes and losses. It tells the character of our team.’’
That’s the above-mentioned Emery after the Cougars swept USF and Santa Clara and are 10-4 in conference, one game behind Saint Mary’s and two behind Gonzaga.
Only the only ones
Follow the three dots...
As if there weren’t enough on BYU’s Emery already, I have to include that minute or so he played with one shoe in the first half of the Santa Clara game. Emery scored on a layup, lost his shoe, picked it up and played a little defense with the shoe in his hand before a whistle unrelated to his “wardrobe malfunction’’ allowed him to lace it up again. … You have to admire LMU for playing Saint Mary’s tough in Moraga without its best player, Adom Jacko. Back issues kept Jacko on the bench but his team narrowed a 20-point deficit to six at the finish in a 68-62 win for the Gaels. … How competitive is the WCC? The longest current “winning’’ streaks are by BYU and Pepperdine, both winners of two straight. … Game of sevens: In looking at USF, 7-7 in league play, the Dons are scoring 77.3 points per game while allowing 77.5 per game. … Eight of the top 10 players in the conference in minutes played are guards. Only forwards Wiltjer (33.7) and Stacy Davis (33.4) of Pepperdine crack the top 10.
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.