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

Dec. 30, 2014

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

By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC

If there is one thing that has been constant through the years -- heck, though the decades - in the West Coast Conference, it's the intensity of the rivalries. That proved true yet again on Monday night in Moraga when San Francisco traveled over a bridge and through a tunnel to play Saint Mary's.

At the final buzzer of Saint Mary's 69-56 victory, reserve center Jock Landale went up for a dunk attempt at the final buzzer and was met hard from behind by Tim Derksen. Since the sequence occurred just after 00:00 showed on the scoreboard, no foul was called.

Players from both teams massed the court and exchanged angry words and pointed at each other while the partisan crowd at McKeon Pavilion booed the Dons. Coaches from both teams successfully herded their players toward their respective locker rooms and that was that.

After the game, Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said he wished his team had simply dribbled out the clock, rather than risk injury by going up for a shot as Landale did. USF's Rex Walters, for his part, wanted his team to foul earlier but made no apologies for not having done so.

"We're going to play it to the last second,'' Walters said. "That's what I believe in. If they're going to shoot a layup, they have to know we're going to contest it. If you've got a problem with it, we've got a problem. I love Randy (Bennett). I have a lot of respect for him. I didn't think it was a cheap play.''

If there is any lingering resentment on either side as to how the game ended, it will have to wait, or fester, until Feb. 26, when the Gaels play at USF in the penultimate game of the WCC's regular season.

"We haven't earned the right yet to call this a rivalry,'' Walters said. "We lacked some fight and some toughness tonight. That's a reflection on me.''

While the intensity of an old rivalry like USF-Saint Mary's was reinforced by Monday night's game, What We Learned elsewhere from the first week of conference play was instructive.

  • No. 7/8 Gonzaga (13-1, 2-0) is going to be very, very hard to defeat the rest of the way. In fact, some observers said beating BYU in Provo to start the WCC schedule represented the Zags' last real challenge, a daunting prospect for the other nine teams in the conference. Who is going to rise up and deal Gonzaga the first blemish on its conference record? Show of hands, please.
  • While the WCC is rightly known as a guard-centric conference with such backcourt beauties as Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., Tyler Haws, Johnny Dee, Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark, it sure is nice to have someone potent in the post. For Saint Mary's, it's Brad Waldow. For Gonzaga, it's Przemek Karnowski, with significant help from No. 4-types Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. For San Diego, it's Jito Kok, as in Blok, leading the WCC in rejections with 2.8 per game.
  • Bennett knows how to draw up a defensive game plan. First, he had a pair of 6-foor-7 forwards, Garrett Jackson and Desmond Simmons, guard Santa Clara's Brownridge, a 16 points-per-game scorer. Result? The poorest offensive showing of the season for the 6-2 Brownridge, who shot 2-of-12 for 7 points.

"Garrett gave us a great lift tonight. It's the best game he's played here,'' Bennett said of the USC transfer, now in his second year in Moraga. "He did a really good job defending Brownridge. So did Desmond. We put a lot of energy in that. We couldn't have done it without Garrett and Desmond sacrificing to make that happen.''

Next, Bennett had the same two players defend guys their own size, in particular USF's leading scorer, Kruize Pinkins (16.5 ppg). Result? A season-low 4 points for Pinkins. "Our coaches do a great job preparing us for it,'' Simmons said. "The most important thing is paying attention to the scout (report). At the end of the day, we have to go out and execute the scout.'' Told of Simmons' comments, Bennett cracked, "It sounds like a guy who wants playing time.''

Where's the bench?
Four Saint Mary's players lead the conference in minutes played, a fact that might take its toll on the Gaels as the season progresses. Kerry Carter leads the way at 35.5 minutes, ahead of teammates Aaron Bright (34.6), Waldow (33.8) and Emmett Naar (33.4).

Backcourt `boarder
Carter doesn't waste any time when he's on the court for those 35.2 minutes per game. The 6-2 senior guard attacks the boards with alacrity. At 6.6 per game, he's the No. 2 rebounding guard in the WCC, No. 6 overall. BYU's Kyle Collinsworth leads all perimeter players on the glass (7.8).

"I credit it to our bigs,'' Carter said. "They box out and I go to the boards. (Coach Bennett) is always telling me about my potential to be a good rebounding guard. We never let up. It looks a lot better when we win.''

Tweet of the Week
@MartyWilson4: Loved our teams attention to defense/details on the road & offensive execution.. 25 assts/27 baskets #UNSELFISH #Team #purpose #rollwaves

Stat line of the Week
In losing to No. 8 Gonzaga to open WCC play, BYU got a tremendous game from guard Kyle Collinsworth. The 6-foot-6 junior turned in a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and added a steal for good measure.

Speaking of which...
A case could be made for Collinsworth being considered as MVP of the conference, as long as BYU remains within shouting distance of Gonzaga. Thus far Collinsworth is averaging 13.6 points per game, is No. 4 in the WCC in rebounding at 7.8, is No.3 in assists at 5.6 and leads the conference in steals at 2.2 per game.

What makes those numbers more impressive is that Collinsworth tore an ACL last March in the championship game of the WCC tournament.

These scores just in...
Saint Mary's 69, San Francisco 56
Pepperdine 69, Loyola Marymount 56

Follow the Three Dots...
If they had eyes in the back of their heads, USF players could see that it says "Let It Rip'' on the back of their warm-up shirts. I suppose they could always take the shirts off and see the admonition with their front-of-head eyes. There's some validity to the slogan as the Dons are No. 4 in the conference in scoring at 73.0 points per game, behind BYU (88.1), Gonzaga (82.2) and Portland (73.3). ... That sprained ankle hampered BYU's Haws to the point his scoring average has dipped to 22.1 per game, still atop the leaderboard in the conference. ... Stacy Davis of Pepperdine had his streak of 21 straight games scoring in double figures halted vs. LMU when he was held to 7. ... What makes Pangos so good? How about taking care of the ball? He leads the WCC in assists-to-turnover ratio at 3.5.

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.