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

Feb. 16, 2015

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WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC BASKETBALL - CONFERENCE WEEKEND NO. 8

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

That was likely a big “whew!’’ you heard coming from the PORTLAND locker room on Saturday night after the Pilots held on to defeat LOYOLA MARYMOUNT 66-63 at home. The Lions made the game close by outscoring coach Eric Reveno’s team 37-32 in the second half.

LMU almost sent the game into overtime. Evan Payne was fouled on a three-point shot with 1.4 seconds left with his team trailing 65-61. The desperation shot almost found the mark before it rimmed out. Payne hit the first two free throws for a game-high 23 points and deliberately missed the third, hoping a teammate would grab the rebound and score on a put-back to tie the game at 65-65.

Alas, no.

The win pushed Portland’s conference record to 7-7, good for fifth place and a half-game ahead of 7-8 SAN DIEGO. A 2-2 finish to the conference season by the Pilots would give them a mark of 9-9 and that would be enough to secure a bye into the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament on March 7.

Unless SANTA CLARA reverses a five-game losing streak and wins its final four conference games, the bottom four teams playing on the first day of the WCC tourney will likely be the Broncos (5-9), SAN FRANCISCO (4-10), LMU (4-11) and PACIFIC (2-12).

Like the Broncos, the Dons will almost certainly have to win out in their final four conference games to avoid playing on day one in Las Vegas.

“We’re going to go down fighting. We have that mentality,’’ USF coach Rex Walters said. “Our guys have a lot of pride. It’s been a tough year. We’ve lost to a lot of teams with winning records. It hurts me. I know it hurts them. The season so far has not been what we expected.’’

Around the WCC, What We Learned from last week’s games is:

  1. Home and away both, no WCC team has played Gonzaga tougher this season than PEPPERDINE, at least for 1 ½ games. In a traffic-delayed game at Firestone Fieldhouse on Jan. 15, the Waves left everything they had on the court in losing by two, 78-76. On Saturday in Spokane, the score was tied 30-30 at halftime as the Waves played without injured Amadi Udenyi, A.J. John and Shawn Olden. The issue for Pepperdine this season has been inconsistency. One night it can look like just about the best team in the conference and the next it coughs up a big furball.
  2. Of course, No. 3 GONZAGA has won 40 straight home games for a reason, 19 in a row overall this season after its loss at Arizona on Dec. 6. The Zags held Lamond Murray Jr. to one point in the second half after his 10 points in the first helped Pep to tie Gonzaga at halftime.
  3. For Gonzaga, super-sub Domantas Sabonis might be the most efficient player in the country. His offensive rebound, dribble, pivot and left-handed power dunk vs. Pep was an impressive sight and a singular highlight of his team’s 58-46 victory.
  4. SAINT MARY’S might have to make the championship game of the WCC Tournament in order to make the field for the NCAA tourney. The Gaels have two bad home losses, to Boise State and Northern Arizona, along with a home conference loss to Pepperdine. As well, Saint Mary’s had to go to two overtimes to beat San Diego 69-62 at the Slim Gym. If Saint Mary’s finishes off the regular season 3-1 (assuming a loss to Gonzaga in Moraga on Feb. 21) and gets to the championship game and loses to the Zags, it would be 24-8.

Zero sum game
Throughout the WCC there are seven players who wear either jersey number 0 or 00, making it possible to assemble an All Zero Team, presented for your enjoyment of all things nil:

G – O Silas Melson, Gonzaga
G – 00 Christopher Anderson, San Diego
G – 00 Kevin Bailey, Portland
F – 0 Montray Clemons, San Francisco
C – 00 Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s

Speaking of which
Waldow was included in a group of 15 post players under consideration for the inaugural Kareen Abdul-Jabbar Award, to be given to the nation’s top center in an ESPN2 ceremony on April 10. In early March the list will be cut from 15 to five.

Waldow is averaging 20.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Some of the other centers on the Abdul-Jabbar watch list are Jahlil Okafor of Duke, Stefan Nastic of Stanford, Rakeem Christmas of Syracuse, Kennedy Meeks of North Carolina and Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin.

What coaches do
Although USF is closing out a disappointing season and has not played well at home, Walters has chosen not to berate his team for its shortcomings. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The Dons turned in a poor first half at home against Santa Clara on Thursday night, trailing 24-18 after 20 minutes. During the break, Walters employed a little Coaching 101: Positive Reinforcement.

“My whole thing was I wanted to put them back to when we first recruited them,’’ Walters said. “You guys remember the players you are. You are special. Be that guy.’’

The coaching ploy worked. USF scored 40 points in the second half to Santa Clara’s 34 and the game went into overtime. An 11-4 edge in the extra period led to a 69-62 victory by the Dons.

“Sometimes we go through a stretch where we forget the kind of players we are,’’ guard Tim Derksen said. “Coach did a good job, going down the line, giving guys confidence. We were all frustrated. Shots weren’t falling. He did a good job of giving us confidence.’’

Tweet of the week
Erin Miller ‏@millerin
Love is going to the @PeppBasketball vs Gonzaga game in Spokane on Valentine's Day to support your fiancé's alma matter. #rollwaves

Quote of the week
“It was one of the happiest days of my life.’’

That’s Walters, recalling the day North Carolina assistant coach (to the late Dean Smith) Bill Guthridge came to one of his high school practices to take a look at the scrappy guard from San Jose. Walters ended up going to Northwestern before transferring to Kansas.

Life’s funny that way
After watching the Santa Clara-USF thriller at Memorial Gym, your columnist arrived home at midnight and started scanning the movie channels on TV. I stopped scanning when I came to this offering: “The Power of Few.” It was described as “Urban crime and religious conspiracy mix as an event unfolds from multiple perspectives,’’ starring Christopher Walken.

I took it to be another sign of the stellar season that Gonzaga is having under the direction (or power) of coach Mark Few.

Follow the three dots...
On Saturday against Saint Mary’s Johnny Dee reached 2,000 career points in his San Diego career, tops in school history. He also leads in free throw percentage and three-point shots made. His teammate, old Double Aught Anderson, is the career leader in steals and assists. Pretty good pair, eh? … Not to be overlooked is the fact even in defeat, Pepperdine held Gonzaga to 24 points below its season scoring average of 80.7 points. … Seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. will leave Gonzaga having won 113 games (and counting), topping the 112 of last season’s seniors.

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.