WHAT WE THINK - PREVIEWING WEEK THREE OF WCC PLAY
With the New Year comes new opportunities and familiar challenges for teams in the West Coast Conference looking to improve their positions in the standings. As coaches are forever emphasizing, and with good reason, it starts with defense, especially for those teams facing tough road games this week. I've often heard it said that defense travels well, no matter the sport. Let's see if that holds true this weekend.
For example, PEPPERDINE (9-5, 2-1) plays at BYU (13-4, 3-1) on Thursday night in Provo. While the Cougars are the top-scoring team in Division I and live large scoring from the perimeter, the Waves can set up a wall around the three-point arc. Their three-point field goal percentage defense is .236, second nationally.
Pepperdine's last three defeats were by 2, 2 and 8 points, proving once again that defense can keep a team competitive until the end.
SAN FRANCISCO (7-9, 1-3) and SANTA CLARA (7-8, 2-2) will need all the defense, and everything else they can muster, when they face No. 6 GONZAGA (14-1, 3-0) on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The Dons come close to matching the Zags athletically at some positions but will need the kind of all-out effort coach Rex Walters has been looking for all season. For Santa Clara, it's simple - guards Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark have to be spot-on offensively for the Broncos to make a game of it.
Meanwhile, SAINT MARY'S (12-3, 4-0) will be motivated to stay at the top of the standings when it faces PACIFIC (9-7, 1-3) on Saturday in Stockton in its only game of the week. The Tigers will need all they can get out of guard T.J. Wallace and off-the-bench sparkplug Dulani Robinson.
Here's What We Think about this week's slate of games:
- Gonzaga is so talented, and so deep, that it doesn't even need its 7-foot-1 center, Przemek Karnowski, to go after rebounds like a pit bull chasing a man in a pork chop suit. The big man had just two rebounds in his team's 87-75 win at Portland but he did show up big in the scoring column with 21 points to go with 2 assists and 2 steals and for that he was named conference player of the week. He also hit the first three-point shot of his career. So who cares about rebounding? In that game guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley combined for 12 boards.
- Although Pepperdine has a winning record overall (9-5) and in conference play (2-1), the next eight games will determine whether the Waves wax or wane in 2014-15. That's because six of those games are on the road and two of them are against WCC heavyweights BYU (Thursday on ESPNU at 8 p.m. Pacific time) and Saint Mary's (Jan. 31), with No. 6 Gonzaga coming to Malibu on Jan. 15.
- USF's Walters is still trying to find the right combination to send out onto the court. He's started five different lineups this season compared to three all of 2013-14. The Dons are getting good production from forwards Kruize Pinkins (15.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Mark Tollefsen (15.1, 5.3) and guard Tim Derksen (11.8, 4.9) but not enough elsewhere. USF has lost 25 straight games to the Zags and has not experienced a victory in Spokane since Feb. 10, 1989.
- LMU's best chance to notch its first conference win comes Thursday in San Diego against the 1-3 Toreros. Seems like the Lions have a choice on defense: go all-in on guarding marksman Johnny Dee (18.1 ppg), the nation's leading active three-point shooter in terms of shots made beyond the arc (303), or let Dee fire away from the perimeter while clamping down on everyone else.
Follow the three dots...
As noted earlier this week, BYU's Kyle Collinsworth is one triple-double away from tying the NCAA single-season record for T-D's. Three more double figures in points, rebounds and assists and the junior guard will tie the NCAA career record in this most versatile of categories. ... The WCC leads the nation in three-point field goal accuracy at .3721 percent. ... The voice of Pepperdine basketball, Al Epstein, has done 890 consecutive Waves' games and is showing no signs of slowing down after 30 years. ... Stacy Davis is the 38th Pepperdine player to record 1,000 career points. He's a junior and if he stays on his current pace through his senior season he'll be Pepperdine's career leader in points scored. ... Fun with numbers: Pepperdine is 4-0 when it shoots .400 to .499 from the field but only 2-3 when shooting .500 or better and 3-2 when shooting less than .400. It's all about finding that sweet spot, apparently.
A limited number of single-game and all-session passes to the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-10 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 $135 and $175 for all nine men's games and all nine women's games, 18 games in all.
Breaking it down, that's $7.50 per game for the $135 package and $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.