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What We've Learned - Non-Conference Wrap

Dec. 23, 2014

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WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC BASKETBALL - NON-CONFERENCE WRAP

By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC

There is a simple metric when it comes to sports, in this case college basketball.

"Seven and three sounds a lot better than 6-4,'' SAINT MARY'S coach Randy Bennett said after Monday night's game against Northeastern. "Yes, I thought it was a more significant game for us than most non-conference games.''

In danger of losing their third straight home game at McKeon Pavilion, the Gaels held off the Huskies in overtime to win 72-68 and improve to, yep, 7-3. With this being their last contest before West Coast Conference play begins on the 27th, the Gaels played like it mattered.

"We're hungry,'' guard Kerry Carter said after scoring 17 points. "We don't think our record is where it should be and doesn't reflect the work we've put in.''

After getting outplayed by Boise State and then losing an embarrassing game to Northern Arizona on a last-second gaffe, it was fair to wonder if maybe the Gaels were not as good as advertised going into the season.

"We are not a finished product, by any means,'' Bennett said. "We're still a little unsure of what we are. We need to get a better identity defensively. If we can get good defense, that will be two out of three (along with rebounding) and we'll see if we can tighten up on offense.''

With center Brad Waldow rebounding in double figures, the Gaels are formidable on the boards. Against a pretty good Northeastern team Saint Mary's enjoyed a 39-29 rebounding advantage.

"I think we're pretty good,'' guard Aaron Bright said. "We played St. John's really well (despite losing). We're looking forward to the start of conference. You don't want to go into conference off a loss, especially going into Christmas.''

Asked what he liked about his team, Bright said, "We've got the big fella down low (Waldow), myself and Kerry and the guys on the perimeter, we're playing pretty well. We're just trying to get better.''

As are the other nine WCC teams as they gird for the start of conference play in a few days. What We've Learned is they are going about it differently.

1. Dulani Robinson of PACIFIC proved, once again, that it's not who starts the game that matters, it's who finishes. The Tigers have themselves a terrific finisher in the 5-foot-9 junior guard. Robinson hit the winning shot, a 3-pointer, with 1.1 seconds left in Pacific's 71-68 victory over Fresno State. Against Nevada he scored his team's final eight points in a 69-65 win.
 
For that, Robinson was named WCC men's player of the week - a perfect finish to a nice seven-day stretch for him and his team.


2. With non-conference play concluded, it may also be concluded that the three P's - PORTLAND, PACIFIC and PEPPERDINE are better than originally thought. The Pilots are 8-3, the Waves are 7-3 and the Tigers are 8-4. Now let's see how they handle the home-and-home grind of conference games over the next two months.
 


3. If it keeps up its robust offensive pace, BYU can achieve a nice bit of symmetry by season's end. The Cougars lead the nation in scoring at 88.9 while peripatetic guard Tyler Haws is No. 2 in scoring at 23.8 per game, just below the 24.0 of Georgia Southern's Jelani Hewitt. As the Cougars make their way through the WCC schedule, it may be that they will need even more scoring from Haws.

A walk on the mild side
We wrote several weeks ago about Jared Brownridge's strolling video interview series on the Santa Clara campus called "Long Walks with Jared.'' He went straight to the top with his latest walk-and-talk with university President Michael Engh S.J. Here's the link:

http://youtu.be/9N-aKK1qgJ4v

Of particular interest in the nine-minute video is when the cameraman pans Engh's office to reveal a framed Sandy Koufax baseball card and an autographed picture of Vin Scully, both homages to Engh's hometown of Los Angeles and his focal point as a fan.

Brownridge, second on the team in scoring (15.7 ppg) to backcourt mate Brandon Clark (16.7), is scheduled to do a Long Walk with WCC Commissioner Lynn Holzman sometime next month.

Not so dandy Dons
As coach Rex Walters' San Francisco team prepares for the start of conference play, it's not hard to determine an area where the Dons need to improve - the free throw line. There's no kind way to say it: the Dons are terrible with the ball in their hands from 15 feet straightaway with no one guarding them.

In fact, there's only one team in Division I with a worse shooting percentage from the free throw line than USF, Savannah State at .541. Of the 351 teams in Div. I, USF is 350th at .559.

"We're 6-6 and we're one of the worst free-throw percentage teams in the nation,'' Walters said. "We need to knock them down. Guys aren't stepping up and knocking them down. It's something we have to do a better job of.''

No USF regular is shooting even 67 percent from the free throw line.

Quote of the Week
"I'm a romantic by heart. I wanted to be a part of as many experiences as I could by the time my career is over. I've been incredibly lucky. This is a good spot to finish my career. It takes me full circle. If I can help my alma mater, I'm proud to do it.''

That's first-year Loyola Marymount coach Mike Dunlap, talking about his varied coaching career.

Stat line of the week
Northern Arizona surprised Saint Mary's by winning at the buzzer 73-71 but that shouldn't negate the fine game turned in by the 6-11 Waldow. He had 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting (9 of 12 from the free throw line), 15 rebounds and 6 assists.

Tweet of the Week
West Coast Convo ‏@WestCoastConvo

FINAL: Dulani Robinson's 3-pointer w/ 1.1 seconds is a game winner! Tigers beat Fresno State 71-68 in a nailbitter #WCChoops

Follow the three dots
Saint Mary's Waldow is the only player in the conference averaging a double-double at 22.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. ... How about sharpshooters Carter of Saint Mary's and Mark Tollefsen of San Francisco? They are tied for the conference lead in 3-point field goal percentage at a nifty .500. ... Loyola Marymount leads WCC teams in 4.3 blocked shots per game. ... Is there a more efficient player in the conference than Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis? He's shooting 75 percent from the field. ... Interesting game for Portland point guard Alec Wintering. In a win over Montana State he had 11 assists to go with 4 points and 2 rebounds.

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.