By John Crumpacker
The second half of the conference season has just begun and already we can envision a fight to the finish among SAINT MARY’S and GONZAGA for the regular season championship.
Gonzaga has seven conference games remaining while Saint Mary’s has eight, with both schools on the road for five of those contests. As the schedule moves into its last month before the WCC Tournament, the Feb. 20 game between the Gaels and Zags in Spokane looms as the game of the year.
If Gonzaga (9-2) can get the job done at PEPPERDINE this Saturday, it figures to bring a 13-2 conference record into the showdown with Saint Mary’s (9-1). I think the Gaels might lose to BYU in Provo this Thursday, with a potentially tough game against an improving Pepperdine team in Moraga on Feb. 11. By defeating Pepperdine, Saint Mary’s could also be 13-2 by the time it takes the court at the McCarthey Center.
Two teams with 13-2 records battling for first place in the conference on Feb. 20 with two games to go is must-see. After that, the Zags have a tough road game at BYU to close out the regular season on the 27th while the Gaels are at traditional rival SAN FRANCISCO – certainly no walk in Golden Gate Park.
The real winners in this equation are the fans, watching two teams compete for a conference title while burnishing their resumes come NCAA Tournament time. As I mentioned before, I see BYU and Pepperdine as NIT teams, unless one of them makes a deep run in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Pepperdine, though, could be the outlier in the WCC race. The Waves host Gonzaga this Saturday and are at Saint Mary’s on Feb. 11. Coach Marty Wilson’s team is 7-2 in conference since Jan. 2, including home wins over Saint Mary’s and BYU and an inexplicable loss at SANTA CLARA. In other words, anything is possible with this Pepperdine squad
Here’s What We Learned as WCC teams began the second half of conference play:
Maybe it's just me
Every time I hear the last name of Pepperdine guard Amadi Udenyi spoken on TV broadcasts, I hear instead “Houdini.’’ Well, I understand Udenyi is known for escaping from tight spots on the court.
Stat line of the week
How about this symmetry? Santa Clara’s prolific Jared Brownridge scored 38 points in 38 minutes in his team’s 90-84 victory at Portland. He hit on 14 of 24 field goals overall and was 7-of-11 behind the arc and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. He also had 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 rebound.
Runner-up for stat line of the week is from the same game. Portland’s Alec Wintering was sensational in defeat as he had 31 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 1 block.
Quote of the week
“It’s a tough environment and quite honestly, our guys weren’t ready for it.’’
That’s telling it like it is from Rex Walters, whose USF Dons lost to Gonzaga at the McCarthey Center (aka The Kennel) for the 27th consecutive time dating to the 1988-89 season.
Tweet of the week
Honoring a legend
San Francisco women’s coach Jennifer Azzi on Sunday night presented her college coach, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, with the 2016 Coaching Corps Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 2nd annual Coaching Corps Game Changer awards ceremony in San Francisco.
Coaching Corps’ mission is to provide access to trained coaches and teach the benefit of team-based learning to under-served communities. Other presenters at the ceremony included Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants, Torrey Smith of the Santa Clara 49ers, Stephen Vogt of the Oakland A’s and Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders. (No, Carr was not in two places at once with the Pro Bowl taking place on Sunday in Honolulu; the Coaching Corps awards show was taped on Jan. 26.)
"Tara taught me so much as a basketball player and coach, but what means the most is the relationship we have had for 30 years,’’ Azzi said. “She is one of the most incredible people who has blessed my life in so many ways. She is the best coach ever."
Together, Azzi and VanDerveer won an NCAA championship in 1990 and an Olympic gold medal at Atlanta in 1996.Legend in the making
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Saint Mary’s is the only team in the WCC holding opponents to fewer than 60 points per game (59.6). … The Gaels are also the only team shooting better than .400 from 3-point range (.436). … Saint Mary’s and Portland are 1-2 in the conference in 3-point shots made per game, 9.5 and 9.4, respectively. … USF’s Tim Derksen is the No. 2 rebounding guard in the conference (behind Collinsworth) at 6.1 per game. … San Diego’s Jito Kok is up to 2.6 blocks per game. As a team, BYU leads in the rejection category at 4.3.