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What We've Learned - WCC Basketball, League Play Week Four

Jan. 19, 2015

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WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC BASKETBALL - CONFERENCE WEEKEND NO. 4

By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC  |  COMPLETE CRUMPACKER ARCHIVES

We played two on Saturday. OK, not played, watched. Drove a lot of the time, from home to SANTA CLARA to see the Broncos take on old rival SAN FRANCISCO and then to Moraga to see SAINT MARY'S take on new rival BYU.

The two games could not have been more different, and that's not a good thing.

The atmosphere at the Leavey Center for USF-Santa Clara was, at best, tepid. A paucity of students, especially at the start of the game, was particularly noticeable. The Broncos won 70-64 in what used to be an intense rivalry. Granted, both teams are sub-.500 at the moment, but the game could have used a more enthusiastic audience.

At super-heated and jam-packed McKeon Pavilion, food trucks lined up outside and music blared for what was a greatly anticipated Event. BYU had a large and vocal contingent of fans, so much so that it led to the unusual occurrence of a player on his home court being heckled by visiting fans chanting "Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!'' when a Gael's shot failed to draw iron.

Saint Mary's rousing 82-77 victory kept it spotless in the conference standings at 7-0 to set up an appealing showdown in Spokane against No. 3 Gonzaga and its 7-0 record on Thursday night. Now, that's must-see hoops.

Elsewhere around the WCC, What We Learned from last week's games was:

  1. Heading into the halfway point in the conference season, PEPPERDINE'S Marty Wilson seems like a dandy candidate for Coach of the Year with how he's guided the Waves to a 5-2 record in conference, 12-6 overall. Pepperdine gained a tremendous measure of respect with its two-point loss to Gonzaga in Malibu, followed by a win over Portland. The Waves play stout defense, have one of the better players in the WCC in forward Stacy Davis and another versatile player in Jett Raines.
  2. BYU's Kyle Collinsworth has emerged as a strong candidate for Player of the Year honors with a fine all-around game for the Cougars, currently 5-3 in conference after their tough loss at Saint Mary's. Collinsworth, a 6-foot-6 point guard, has unmatched versatility, as reflected in 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He also shares the NCAA Division I record for single-season triple-doubles with four.
  3. Let's draw a distinction between Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. That way, Saint Mary's Brad Waldow can be recognized for his tremendous value to his team. The Gaels would not be tied for the conference lead without Waldow's productive play in the post. He's a consistent 20-10 player, points and rebounds, as well as a source of inspiration for his teammates.
  4. In the midst of a rough season under first-year coach Mike Dunlap, it was good to see that LOYOLA MARYMOUNT still has some fight. The Lions defeated Portland for their first conference victory and might add to that lonely number with upcoming games against such vulnerable teams as Pacific, San Diego, USF and Santa Clara.

Famous namesake
Sometimes the answers to obvious questions are, well, obvious. Take Santa Clara guard Denzel Johnson, who knocked down 3-of-5 from three-point range and contributed 11 important points in his team's 70-64 victory over USF on Saturday afternoon.

Denzel? Might he be named after actor Denzel Washington? Why, yes, he would.

Seems his mother and father had been told a girl was on the way, so they had a female name all picked out, but when a male of the species arrived instead, mom and dad were caught unprepared.

"I didn't have a name for 4, 5 days, actually,'' Johnson said. "It was a big surprise (to my parents). We have similar stories. My mom told me when Denzel (Washington) was born, his parents were expecting a girl. So they named him after the doctor who delivered him.''

So Mr. & Mrs. Johnson, being fans of the actor, named their son Denzel.

Catching up
The San Diego-at-Saint Mary's game on Thursday night afforded us a chance to catch up with Toreros assistant coach Rodney Tention, now in his fourth year on coach Bill Grier's staff. Thirty years ago, we covered Tention when he played for USF. We were there on that night when Tention sustained a gruesome elbow injury while crashing to the court following a dunk.

Tention extended his left arm to break his fall and the force of the landing caused his elbow to do things elbows are not designed to do. He dislocated the elbow and shattered the joint's radial head. That was the end of his 1985-86 season but Tention ended up playing two more seasons for the Dons.

"I've lost about five to ten percent of movement in every direction,'' he said. "I can't get full extension. It doesn't limit me in anything I do. Maybe golf. It's one (injury) I'll never forget. That's as gruesome as any injury I've endured by far.''

Since his playing days, Tention has been busy building a nice coaching resume. He's had head coaching stints at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, Ca., and Loyola Marymount and has been an assistant coach at South Florida, Arizona and Stanford before coming to San Diego.

Stat line of the week
In the sauna that was McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Saint Mary's Brad Waldow put up 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots and 1 steal. Oh, and the Gaels defeated BYU 82-77.

Tweet of the Week -  PepperdineMensHoops @PeppBasketball
Due to the accident on PCH and Gonzaga's late arrival, tonight's start time will be pushed to a half-hour later (8:03pm tip).

I don't believe I've heard of a traffic-delayed game before but I can definitely envision an accident causing a massive jam on the two-lane Pacific Coast Highway.

Speaking of which
Here's a good read from Jim Meehan on Gonzaga's narrow win at fired-up Pepperdine

Follow the three dots...
Santa Clara's Jared Brownridge will walk-and-talk with WCC Commissioner Lynn Holzman later this week in his video series "Long Walks With Jared.'' ... Saint Mary's still has three players leading the conference in minutes played in Waldow (34.4), Kerry Carter (34.2) and Aaron Bright (33.7). ... Pacific's Eric Thompson didn't score a point but he played a big role in the Tigers' 59-57 win over San Diego with 11 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. .... Here's why Pacific is 10-9: It is averaging 66.2 points per game while allowing 66.0 per game. ... Gonzaga is the only team in the conference shooting more than 50 percent from the field as a team (.530). ... BYU is the top team in the WCC in assists (18.0) and steals (8.0) per game.

Vegas, baby
A limited number of single-game and all-session passes to the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-10 are now available for sale online at WCCHoopsInVegas.com. All-session passes for the event at the Orleans Arena in the casino of the same name cost $135 and $175 for all nine men's games and all nine women's games, 18 games in all.

Breaking it down, that's $7.50 per game for the $135 package and $9.72 per game for the $175 package. Further ticket information is available below:  HERE  or log on to WCChoopsInVegas.com.

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.