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

Jan. 26, 2015

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WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC BASKETBALL - CONFERENCE WEEKEND NO. 5

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

Math was always my worst subject in school – it was a foreign language I just couldn’t speak -- but even a Mathematics for Dummies guy like me knows six does not fit into four. Counting on my fingers as always, that appears to leave two out of luck.

Conference teams have now rounded the turn and are headed into the second half of the schedule, when positioning for the WCC tournament comes into focus. That would be Vegas Comma Baby, of course.

The top six teams receive a bye in the first round on March 6 and begin play in the quarterfinals on the 7th. Unless things change dramatically and unexpectedly, GONZAGA (9-0) and SAINT MARY’S (8-1) seem to have the top two spots under control. At 5-4, BYU, PEPPERDINE and SANTA CLARA are tied for third. Again, using my fingers, that’s five teams. One to go.

Who’s it going to be? PORTLAND, SAN DIEGO and SAN FRANCISCO are all 3-6 and seem to have a fighter’s chance of punching their way into the top six. They also could go the other way and slip deeper down the standings while LOYOLA MARYMOUNT, buoyed by its Saturday night upset at USF, might make a move at the others’ expense.

“We’ve been close,’’ said LMU’s Evan Payne, who hit the winning shot against USF. “We’ve been down to Gonzaga by seven in the second half. We’re capable of doing good things in conference. It’s good to get this win for my team today. It’s going to be fun to see how they match things up when we go to Vegas.’’

Funny, USF said much the same thing after its win over Pepperdine on Thursday night, a 71-59 decision that was impressive for the way the Dons came out in the second half and took control over what had been a close game.

“Coming into the season, we knew we could play with anybody,’’ guard Devin Watson said. “We just got off to a slow start. We feel like it’s our time now if we’re going to make a move. Get a win Saturday night and we’ll go from there.’’

That didn’t happen. What did happen shows that except for Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, nobody is safe from the vagaries of competition in the WCC, where anybody can win on a given night.

“We’re close,’’ USF coach Rex Walters said after Pepperdine and before LMU. “I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re capable of making a run. I told our guys there’s not a team left on our schedule we can’t beat.’’

And conversely, as it turned out for the Dons.

From Payne to pleasure
The Lions of LMU were rightly fired up after their upset win at USF. It served as a balm for a team that had lost nine games away from home this season, including two at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. The way it happened was a combination of luck and being in the right place at the right time.

USF had gone up 69-68 on a free throw with 20 seconds left. LMU brought the ball up as the seconds ticked toward zero. Marin Mornar put up a shot from the top of the key that missed. Teammate Godwin Okonji grabbed the rebound and heaved up a shot that barely grazed the front of the rim. From the left side, Payne rose up, got two hands on the ball and banked in the winner at the buzzer.

“It’s a surreal feeling,’’ he said of his first last-second, game-winning shot in college. “Coming back from that (a 47-30 deficit) is amazing. When you hit the game-winning shot, you get so much adrenaline.’’

As WCC teams completed the first half of conference play, What We Learned was:

  1. Unless SAINT MARY’S rises up and defends McKeon Pavilion on Feb. 21, GONZAGA should emerge unscathed at the end of the regular season at 18-0 heading into the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. The Zags are too deep and too battle-tested to slip up the rest of the way, although non-conference Memphis might have something to say about that this coming Saturday in Spokane.
  2. PEPPERDINE entered last week riding high with a 5-2 conference record and seemed ready to take over sole possession of third place. Instead, the Waves were repelled by both SAN FRANCISCO and SANTA CLARA on the road and are tied for third with BYU and Santa Clara.
  3. The most disappointing result of the week had to be home-standing USF letting one slip away at the buzzer to LOYOLA MARYMOUNT. The Dons, hoping for a 2-0 week after an encouraging victory over Pepperdine on Thursday, frittered away a 17-point lead in the second half and lost by a point on a tip-in at 00:00. Ouch. That’s one of those losses that falls into the soul-crushing category.

Quote of the week
“We’ve been looking for a win like this because of the work we’ve done. It gives them some relief.’’

That’s first-year LMU coach Mike Dunlap, reflecting on his team’s 70-69 upset victory at USF.

Stat line of the week
It’s not often, if at all, that someone who scores only five points gets the nod for the above category but Loyola Marymount’s Chase Flint is deserving. Along with those 5 points (in a one-point win at San Francisco), the guard had 4 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals.

The last of his steals came on a botched inbounds play by the Dons with 51 seconds remaining in which Flint grabbed the loose ball under the USF basket and scored on a layup that tied the score 68-68 and set up Payne’s buzzer-beating dramatics.

Special mention
Although Pepperdine had a fruitless trip to the Bay Area in losing to San Francisco and Santa Clara, forward Stacy Davis did all he could for the Waves. In the two games he had 44 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

Tweet of the Week
James Pigott ‏@jpnets54
Just found an amazing stat: In the 16 seasons since Mark Few became Gonzaga's head coach, team has lost only 4 WCC home games.

Follow the three dots...
Missing 11 of 26 free throws really cost USF in its one-point loss to LMU. … One normally does not associate BYU, the university, with stealing but it’s true: Its basketball team leads the conference in steals per game at 7.9. … In Portland’s three-point win over Pacific, center Thomas van der Mars had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 1 assist. … Saint Mary’s Brad Waldow fell just a tick below 10 rebounds per game at 9.9; he has plenty of time to get the old average up to double figures to go with his 20.2 points per game. … BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth keeps chugging along with 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game. If this was the sport of track and field, Collinsworth would be a decathlete for his across-the-board versatility.

Vegas, baby
A limited number of all-session passes were just released by the West Coast Conference Monday, Jan. 26 for the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-10 at the Orleans Arena. All-session passes 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 $175 for all nine men's games and all nine women's games, 18 games in all.

Breaking it down, that's $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.