2015 WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - FINALS
LAS VEGAS - In racing to its 32ndwin of the season and another West Coast Conference championship, Gonzaga showed to all who were watching that it is ready for the NCAA Tournament. Bring it on, was the attitude of the players who collaborated in a 91-75 victory over BYU in the title game on Tuesday night.
If Gonzaga plays like this when the NCAA tourney starts to unfold next week, it will be a very tough out for even the best teams.
"In this league there's some really slow-paced teams, some of the slowest-paced teams in the country, and some fast-paced teams,'' BYU coach Dave Rose said. "You have to adjust to both. Tonight they were playing like they seem to play over the years. I was really impressed with Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos in transition. They pushed it really hard. It was probably an entertaining game to watch.''
There was no "probably'' about it.
For someone with no rooting interest, it was a dandy game to watch. For someone with a zen for the Zags, it was a delirious game to watch unfold, one in which Gonzaga both pushed the pace with guards Bell Jr. and Pangos and also dominated inside with big men Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.
Furthermore, Gonzaga was able to show off its enviable depth with someone like Kyle Dranginis, a 6-foot-5 junior guard who had a huge say in the game in 24 minutes off the bench. He scored 10 points and one of his two blocks was on a shot attempt by BYU's prolific scorer, Tyler Haws, who had to work hard for his 15 points.
"He blocked my shot,'' Haws said quietly. "There were a few plays like that that didn't go our way. You've got to give them credit. They played really well to win.''
BYU and Gonzaga are the two highest-scoring teams in the WCC, in that order, but it was the Zags who imposed their will on the Cougars in the pace department. Gonzaga hadn't scored as many as 91 points in nearly two months, since a 91-60 decision over Pacific on Jan. 24. Six players reached double figures at a packed Orleans Arena, with Wiltjer going for 18, Pangos for 16, Bell Jr. and Sabonis 15 each, Karnowski 12 and Dranginis 10.
"We're a battle-tested group,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "I think we took a step to getting back (to our style of play). We got down here and got in attack mode. Without a doubt that's when we're at our best.''
A pivotal moment in the game came with 11:33 to go, Gonzaga up 67-59. Rose was hit with a technical foul for expressing his displeasure little too strongly and Pangos dropped in two free throws for 69-59, followed seconds later with a layup by Sabonis and a 71-59 advantage.
BYU closed to within 71-65 midway through the second half but in short order, a layup by Sabonis on an admirably patient play, a 3-point shot by Bell Jr., an impressive driving layup by Dranginis, a free throw by Karnowski and two foul shots by Pangos made it 81-69 with 3:37 left and that was it.
During this stretch the pace of play was controlled by Gonzaga.
"In our first meeting (with BYU), we didn't do a good job of pushing the pace,'' Wiltjer said. "We really wanted to prove ourselves in this game. We really wanted to push the tempo. Kev and Gary, our guards, all did a good job of that.''
Added Few, "I'm ecstatic for our guys. We got back to the way we play - which is attacking on offense and as tough-as-nails on defense. Our offense got cooking in the second half.''
While Gonzaga will wait until Selection Sunday to find out if it will enter the tournament as one of four No. 1 seeds or perhaps a No. 2 based on its Feb. 28 loss at home to BYU, the Cougars will simply wait to see if their 25-9 season is good enough to get in the NCAA Tournament.
"There's a committee put together that's going to decide that,'' Rose said. "If they watched us play, I think they'd feel pretty good about putting us in.''
Told that Few minutes earlier had addressed the Orleans Arena crowd - a record sellout of 8,585 - and told spectators that BYU was deserving of an NCAA bid, Rose said, "I think Mark's a really smart man.''
As announced minutes after the game, the WCC All-Tournament team included winning players Pangos, Wiltjer and Karnowski of Gonzaga and Haws and Kyle Collinsworth of BYU, with Wiltjer being voted Most Outstanding Player.
My all-tournament team
However, I beg to differ. I filled out my ballot with three Kyles on it - Wiltjer, Collinsworth and Dranginis - along with Bell Jr. and Jared Brownridge of Santa Clara. I wanted to have someone from another school on the team and Brownridge was certainly worthy. I also felt that it would have been a different game had Bell Jr. and Dranginis not played as well as they did.
Shows you what I know. My ballot was the equivalent of a shot being forcefully rejected. That's life in the big city.
This is my last offering for WCCSports.com, at least for the time being. It has been a pleasure for me to tell the story of the conference's signature sport, past and present. I appreciated the cooperation and time that coaches, players and administrators at the member schools gave me in pursuit of those stories.
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.