By John Crumpacker
Unless they experience sudden reversals of fortune, the WCC regular season championship will come down to GONZAGA or SAINT MARY’S. At 11-2 in conference, the Zags are on top of the standings, a half-game ahead of the 10-2 Gaels.
If they both take care of business in the next week, their Feb. 20 rematch in Spokane should decide things in advance of the WCC Tournament March 3-8 in Las Vegas. Gonzaga is at PORTLAND on Feb. 11 and hosts PACIFIC on the 18th, with an interlude at SMU on the 13th in between. Saint Mary’s has three conference games before the biggie at Gonzaga – PEPPERDINE and LOYOLA MARYMOUNT at McKeon Pavilion and Portland at the Chiles Center on the 18th.
By staying “clean’’ in those conference games, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s would bring 13-2 records into their climactic game at the McCarthey Center.
By now, Gonzaga has fully adjusted to life without 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski and is getting improved play from guards Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins. However, at the end of its 69-66 win against Pepperdine, coach Mark Few questioned the wisdom of Perkins receiving the in-bounds pass with two seconds left and heaving the ball high in the air to prevent the Waves from attempting a game-tying three-point shot.
“What are you doing?’’ Few could be seen saying to Perkins at game’s end as he went to shake hands with Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson.
A win is a win, though, and Few was glad to take it in order to remain ahead of Saint Mary’s. The Gaels took their second loss in conference at BYU (70-59) in an entirely predictable outcome on Thursday before beating SAN DIEGO (60-43) in another predictable outcome at the Jenny Craig Pavilion on Saturday. Saint Mary’s has relied on great shooting, good defense and overall efficient team play all season and there’s no reason to think coach Randy Bennett’s team will all of a sudden turn sloppy and inattentive.
What it all adds up to is a compelling finish to the conference season and another possible encounter in Las Vegas. With RPI rankings of 51 for the Gaels and 61 for the Zags, they will need to keep winning in order to count on invitations to the NCAA Tournament. At 79, BYU’s ranking will probably keep it out of the NCAA tourney unless the Cougars get a move-on and make some noise in the WCC tourney.
As the conference season winds down to the final five or six games (depending on teams’ remaining schedules), here’s What We Learned:
Stat line of the week
Uche Ofoegbu of San Francisco had 12 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in the Dons’ 89-86 overtime defeat of Santa Clara. Ofoegbu also played stalwart defense on Santa Clara star Jared Brownridge, who was limited to one point in the first half (18 for the game) and was 0-for-6 from three-point range.
Runner-up honors goes to Pacific’s T.J. Wallace, who had 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 block in his team’s 77-72 upset at BYU.
More on Ofoegbu
The 6-foot-4 guard, a transfer from SMU, has improved greatly from last season along with his increased playing time. A year ago as a redshirt sophomore Ofoegbu averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game off the bench. This season he’s contributing 9.3 points and 4.6 rebounds as he’s started 14 of the Dons’ 23 games.
Quote of the week
Appropriately enough, it’s from USF coach Rex Walters, on Ofoegbu:
“Uche did an outstanding job in guarding Brownridge … It’s hard to stop a guy who has the ultimate green light like he does.’’
Tweet of the week
Road sweep for @PilotHoops in LA. Next move isn't a tough call...@innoutburger
That’s Portland coach Eric Reveno rewarding his players after beating Pepperdine and LMU. It was Portland’s first L.A. road sweep since 2009.
Follow the three dots...
Saint Mary’s guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon are 1-2 in the conference in minutes played, Naar at 36.2 and Rahon at 36.0. What the heck, they’re young and fit. … It’s neck-and-neck for which team will end up as the blocked-shots leader for the season. At the moment BYU has 109 and Portland has 108. … With D’Marques Tyson, Bryce Pressley and Alec Wintering lofting shots from behind the arc, Portland leads the WCC in three-point shots made with 249. … It must be nice for Gonzaga coach Mark Few to know that he can depend on Sabonis for a double-double most every game. The 6-11 sophomore is averaging 17.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and has 14 double-doubles this season. … Saint Mary’s is the only team in the conference holding teams to fewer than 60 points per game (59.3). … The ever-efficient Gaels nearly have a 2-to-1 ratio in assists-to-turnovers; they’re at 1.9. … Unless Brownridge (19.9), USF’s Devin Watson (19.8) or Wintering (19.0) step up the pace, it looks like Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer will finish the season as the conference’s leading scorer – to no one’s surprise. He’s currently at 21.8 per game. … BYU is 2-3 vs. the “P’’ schools this season: 1-1 vs. Pepperdine, 1-1 vs. Pacific and 0-1 vs. Portland.
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.