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Crumpacker - What We Think 2/22/16

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist 

COMPLETE CRUMPACKER ARCHIVES

At SAINT MARY’S, Randy Bennett may never have a team like the one he’s coached into first place in the WCC. Then again, he could have the same kind of team next season, since his roster has no seniors.

In sweeping GONZAGA this season for the first time since 1995, the Gaels were typically efficient on offense and dogged on defense. As I watched Saint Mary’s put the zinger to the Zags in front of their home crowd, it occurred to me that the 63-58 outcome was not an upset. The Gaels were simply the better team, and the better team did more things right down the stretch in improving their overall record to 22-4.

Both teams have 13-3 conference records but in the event of a tie after this week’s final regular season games, it’s advantage Gaels based on their season sweep. Gonzaga on Saturday night was held to less than 60 points for the first time this season. Top scorer Kyle Wiltjer managed just 19 points in the two losses to Saint Mary’s; his scoring average is 21.0 per game otherwise.

Bennett does not have a team of high-fliers or big scorers. It seldom does the spectacular, preferring instead to string together 57 efficient plays. In that regard, it’s like death by a thousand small cuts for opponents instead of one slashing blow from a samurai sword.

Saint Mary’s does not have anyone among the top 14 scorers in the WCC but it does have Emmett Naar (13.4), Calvin Hermanson (11.3), Joe Rahon (10.5) and Dane Pineau (10.4) to get the job done with balance. It’s been duly noted that the Gaels lead the conference in a number of important team categories, to wit, field goal percentage (.508), 3-point field goal percentage (.420), assists per game (17.0) scoring defense (60.2) and scoring margin (+14.7). Also, Saint Mary’s is second in 3-point shots made per game at 8.9.

With such an effective team, the Gaels are not subject to drastic swings like other teams – great one night, sloppy the next. Bennett’s team is always pretty darn good, and that has to be a comfort for a coach knowing what kind of effort he can expect night-in and night-out.

The only real stain on Saint Mary’s record is getting swept by PEPPERDINE, 67-64 in Malibu and 69-63 in Moraga. That won’t look good come NCAA Tournament time. Its other losses, at Cal (63-59) and at BYU (70-59), are not nearly as damaging.

There’s still work to be done for the Gaels before the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. Their last two conference games are seemingly winnable, SANTA CLARA (10-18) at home and SAN FRANCISCO (15-12) on the road, as is the odd season-ender March 1 against Grand Canyon at McKeon Pavilion. That would give them 25 wins going into Vegas.

It’s all there for the taking for Saint Mary’s, the most unspectacular very good team you’ll ever see. Unless we see the same thing next season, of course.

Here’s What We Learned from last week’s penultimate round of games heading into the final week of the regular season:

  1. That BYU is capable of just about anything – good, bad and downright inexplicable -- was revealed in its home-and-home games against travel partner SAN DIEGO. On Thursday night at the Slim Gym (Jenny Craig Pavilion) the Cougars escaped with a 69-67 win over the last-place team in the conference. Two nights later in Provo and sufficiently motivated, BYU crushed the Toreros 91-33. That’s a 2-point win followed 48 hours later by a 58-point win over the same team. What does it mean? It means BYU is the team no one should want to play in Las Vegas; it just might win the whole thing.
  2. Kyle Wiltjer looks off his game. He hasn’t been his usual sweet-stroking self lately as the Zags lost two of their last three. Perhaps the burden of being his team’s go-to guy is taking its toll. Or maybe teams are figuring out how better to defend him. Whatever it is, the guy needs to rejuvenate himself in time for the WCC Tournament – or Gonzaga could be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday when the NCAA Tournament field is revealed.
  3. Speaking of which, if the NCAA takes only the winner of the WCC tourney, that will leave two teams bitterly disappointed, especially if the winner on March 8 at the Orleans Arena is BYU. Would/could the NCAA leave out Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga if BYU wins? Does Gonzaga make it on reputation alone? It should make for a compelling conference tournament among the top three teams.

Pop with a ‘pop
Great shot of Norm Few, father of Gonzaga coach Mark Few, enjoying a Tootsie Pop while watching his son’s team play Pacific at the McCarthey Center.

Tweet of the week
Congrats to @StacyDavisIV for being all-time leading scorer at Pepperdine. Much respect, and it's been fun playing against u over the years

That’s Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge acknowledging the career accomplishment of Pepperdine’s Stacy Davis.

Stat line of the week
In helping BYU stave off an embarrassing defeat at San Diego (the Cougars won by 2), Kyle Collinsworth had 25 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block and 2 steals. It was his 10th double-double of the season.

Runner-up for stat line of the week goes to Saint Mary’s Emmett Naar, who played all 40 minutes in his team’s 63-58 win at Gonzaga and had 13 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal while on defense helping the Gaels hold the Zags to under 60 points for the first time this season.

Quote of the week
“There’s still games left but we can’t go to that place we went to today.’’

That’s Few, per the Spokane Spokesman-Review, reacting to his team’s 63-58 loss to Saint Mary’s on Saturday. 

Follow the three dots...
Looks like Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis and BYU’s Kyle Davis are going to tie for single-game rebounding high in the WCC this season as both players recorded 20 boards, Davis vs. Utah Valley and Sabonis vs. Pacific. … Three players are shooting 3-pointers at better than a .500 clip this season – Stefan Gonzalez (.523) and Naar (.505) of Saint Mary’s and Zac Seljaas (.505) of BYU. … If Wiltjer’s mini-slump continues, Brownridge (20.2) and USF’s Devin Watson (20.0) have a shot at catching him for top scoring honors in the WCC. Wiltjer is at 21.0. … Sabonis has the rebounding title all but locked up at 11.6 per game, nearly three better than Pepperdine's Davis (8.8). … It hasn’t translated into many victories but Portland continues to lead the conference in 3-point shots made at 9.1 per game. Saint Mary’s is at 8.9 and BYU is at 8.8. 

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.