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What We've Learned - WCC Basketball, On to Vegas!

March 2, 2015

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2015 WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CENTRAL

WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC BASKETBALL - FINAL CONFERENCE WEEKEND

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

Well, now, that was certainly a rousing finish to the WCC men's basketball season, wasn't it? Wonder what Las Vegas has in store for the conference tournament?

The last day of the regular season saw two significant upsets of the top two teams. For GONZAGA, losing at home to BYU might just be a speedbump on the highway to the Final Four. For SAINT MARY'S, its 71-70 loss at SANTA CLARA might have knocked it out of consideration for the NCAA Tournament.

The loss will create some soul-searching in Moraga. Just two nights earlier, the Gaels dispatched SAN FRANCISCO with ease and afterward said they were playing their best basketball of the season. That lasted all of 48 hours.

"We're not a team that has a high margin for error,'' Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We've been in a whole lot of close games. In the second half we weren't even close. Their guards (Jared Brownridge, Brandon Clark and Denzel Johnson) had their way with us.''

That's one way of putting it. The triumvirate of Brownridge (17), Clark (21) and Johnson (17) accounted for 55 of Santa Clara's 71 points. Defensively, the Broncos put the clamps on Gaels big man Brad Waldow and limited him to five points on 1 of 7 shooting. That's nearly 15 points below his average.

"I'm proud of our guys. It was a great effort all around,'' Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. "It means we can beat one of the best teams in the league.''

Brownridge's winning shot may have been the result of a coaching point Keating makes during the season in practice, when he calls a halt to drills, gathers his players and has them "figure it out'' when a called play breaks down.

"You hope that moment came back for them,'' Keating said.

Thus, Brownridge, at the top of the key with time ticking down and a called play gone awry, drove the lane and banked in a layup for the winning points with seven seconds left. Recall that Brownridge hit the winning 3-point shot at Saint Mary's a year ago.

"The play broke down,'' Brownridge said. "I had the ball at the top. I knew I had to make an aggressive drive. This is definitely the best (feeling) I've had at Santa Clara. It gives us confidence going to Vegas. We're feeling good about ourselves.''

As the WCC Tournament is about to start, this is What We Learned from the last week of the regular season:

  1. Watch out for BYU. The Cougars finished off the regular season with six wins in a row, including a massive upset of No. 3 Gonzaga in Spokane that just might have clinched an NCAA Tournament bid. BYU has the conference's leading scorer in Tyler Haws, the leading 3-point shooter in Chase Fischer (Chase-ing treys) and the most versatile player in Kyle Collinsworth.
  2. Most people are ready to give the WCC Player of the Year award to Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer, certainly a worthy choice. He's just not my choice. I'll go with the other Kyle, Collinsworth, based on the body of his work that includes five triple-doubles this season to go with 13.5 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.9 steals and an assists-to-turnover ratio of 2.0. Oh, and he hit the winning shot vs. Gonzaga by following up his own miss with a rebound and put-back.
  3. Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good. PORTLAND secured sixth place and earned a bye into the quarterfinals despite losing its last four games in a season in which it also lost to No. 9 PACIFIC and No. 10 LOYOLA MARYMOUNT. The Pilots ended up in a three-way tie for sixth at 7-11 with SAN FRANCISCO and Santa Clara and got the nod based on a 3-1 record vs. the Dons and Broncos.
  4. Given how their otherwise splendid seasons ended, with upset defeats, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's should be keen to do some damage in Las Vegas. Winning the WCC tournament would give the Zags a 32-2 record and the probable No. 1 seed in the West. At this point, the Gaels, at 21-8, would probably have to win the conference championship to make the NCAA tourney.

Memory for a lifetime
Imagine you are Andrew Papenfus. You are anticipating a strong senior season for Santa Clara to finish off an unusual career that started as a student manager of the basketball team in 2010-11. You detoured to the University of Hawaii-Hilo in 2011-12 to play in 25 of 26 games as a reserve, returned to Santa Clara in 2012-13 as a practice player while redshirting and gained some traction in 2013-14 when you played in 15 games while averaging about six minutes per game.

Then in October of 2014, just as your senior season was about to start, you are diagnosed with a benign tumor in your brain. You have surgery on Oct. 6 to remove the tumor. You recover sufficiently enough to play in one game, at BYU on Jan. 31, before experiencing a setback that required rest.

You are cleared medically to play in your team's last game of the season, on Senior Day, with your parents and grandparents in attendance at the Leavey Center against second-place Saint Mary's. You start the game, play five minutes and contribute two steals, one rebound and one assist, and then return to the bench to cheer for your teammates in what was an unexpectedly close game.

You are over the moon when your teammate Brownridge drives the lane for a layup with seven seconds left that gives the Broncos a stunning 71-70 victory.

"I don't think you could write a better script,'' Papenfus said. "It's unbelievable. Right now I'm so happy for our seniors. It's such a good way to end the season. You always want to go out a winner, especially on your home court. I'm so happy I was able to contribute.''

The Brain Game
Thomas van der Mars of Portland and Johnny Dee of San Diego were recently named Capital One Academic All-Americans in addition to making their third straight WCC All-Academic team.

Van der Mars has a 3.95 grade point average in Operations and Technology Management and is pursuing his MBA while playing a little hoops on the side as Portland's 6-foot-11 center. Dee has a 3.49 GPA in Business Administration and has an even higher average from the free throw line -- .919.

Quote of the week
"It hurts. A lot.''
That's a solemn Bennett, asked what losing to Santa Clara might do to Saint Mary's RPI and chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

Tweet of the week
Eric Musselman @EricPMusselman
The East and the Hard - by the late, legendary Coach Don Meyer - "Falling is easy. Getting up is hard. #EasyandHard

1. Leaders in the clubhouse
Here are the WCC's leaders in individual categories at the conclusion of the regular season:
Scoring - 21.9, Tyler Haws (BYU)
Rebounding - 9.0, Brad Waldow (Saint Mary's)
Assists - 6.6, Christopher Anderson (San Diego)
Steals - 2.0, Anderson
Field goal percentage -- .684, Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
Free throw percentage -- .919, Dee (San Diego)
3-point field goal percentage -- .508, Alec Wintering (Portland)
3-point field goals made - 89 (3.0 per game), Fischer (BYU)
Blocked shots - 75 (2.6 per game), Jito Kok (San Diego)
Assists-to-turnover ratio - 3.7, Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)

Vegas, baby
A dwindlingnumber 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 toWCChoopsInVegas.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.