WHAT WE THINK - PREVIEWING WEEK FOUR OF WCC PLAY
While the official WCC Game of the Week takes place on Saturdays, this week being GONZAGA at LOYOLA MARYMOUNT, the real game of the week takes place two days earlier.
That's when No. 3 Gonzaga pays a visit to Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu for an important Thursday night game against surprising PEPPERDINE. By scoring a road sweep last week at BYU and SAN DIEGO, the Waves are off to their best start in conference play since 2002 at 4-1, 11-5 overall.
While winning at BYU was a huge boost for coach Marty Wilson's team, Gonzaga is a different animal altogether. The Zags are No. 3 in the nation, 16-1 overall, 5-0 in conference and winners of nine in a row since an overtime loss at Arizona. Plus, they have a 26-game winning streak vs. Pepperdine.
The Waves get it done with defense, allowing opponents a conference-equaling best 61.0 points per game. Problem is, Gonzaga is No. 2 in the WCC in scoring at 82.6 per game. Something's got to give and that something tells me it's not going to be the team from Spokane. Still, Pepperdine's 3-point field goal defense is something to admire, a stingy .237, No. 1 in the nation.
Thursday's game is one of the biggest in the history of Firestone Fieldhouse, there on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In its history Firestone has hosted a No. 1 team once when SAN FRANCISCO came calling in 1976 and a No. 3 on three occasions: UNLV in 1976, DePaul in 1984 and UConn in 2005. The Waves won that '76 game vs. Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels.
Great note on this Gonzaga-Pepperdine game, courtesy of Waves' sports information director Roger Horne, involving Domantas Sabonis and his father Arvydas, the former Soviet-era star and NBA stalwart.
The younger Sabonis is leading the WCC in field goal percentage at .705. As a 17-year-old in 1982, Arvydas played in Firestone Fieldhouse as a member of the Soviet national team in an exhibition against Pepperdine won by the USSR 116-111; he had 24 points.
Now Domantas makes an appearance in Firestone in what really is the WCC's Game of the Week. At least we think so.
Elsewhere around the conference, What We Think is this:
- PORTLAND's Alec Wintering should stay behind the 3-point arc. He leads the conference in 3-point field goal accuracy at .513 compared to his overall field goal percentage of .473. A 5-foot-11 sophomore, Wintering is standing tall for the Pilots with 14.0 points, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Another great note: He was coached in high school at North Carolina's United Faith Christian Academy by former NBA little big man Muggsy Bogues, at 5-3 the shortest player in league history.
- If USF is going to make a move in the conference standings, now is the time. The Dons have been up and down all season but received a boost with their win at Portland last Saturday. Coach Rex Walters' team is 8-10 overall and 2-4 in WCC play. Its only game this week is on Saturday against long-standing rival SANTA CLARA (7-10, 2-4), which has had its share of problems this season.
- After playing Saint Mary's tough only to lose in the final seconds, PACIFIC needs to make a statement in home games this week against BYU on Thursday and SAN DIEGO on Saturday. The Tigers are 1-4 in conference play and should be fairly desperate to play well in front of its fans. Angry, too, at the way their game against the Gaels ended.
Wooden Watch list narrowed to 25
Three WCC players made the cut on the Wooden Midseason Top 25 list for national player of the year that will be awarded at the Final Four. With guard Kevin Pangos and forward Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga is one of only three schools to place more than one player on the list. The others are Duke (Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones) and Louisville (Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier). BYU's Tyler Haws is the third WCC player on the list.
Metrics of misery
One thing's for sure, SANTA CLARA coach Kerry Keating is not lacking in points of emphasis for his team. In a 7-10 season, 2-4 in the WCC, the Broncos are last in the conference in field goal percentage, .414, last in assists per game, 11.1, and last in blocked shots per game, 1.7. In other words, the Broncos need to shoot better, pass better and play better defense, especially around the basket.
Speaking of which...
Santa Clara could use a player of Kurt Rambis' crazed intensity these days. Thirty-eight years ago, the bespectacled Bronco turned in the first acknowledged triple-double in WCC history. On Jan. 29, 1977 against USF, Rambis had 11 points, 16 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Note the qualifier "acknowledged."
The WCC dates to 1952. The great Bill Russell at USF undoubtedly had triple-doubles during his time on the Hilltop but blocked shots did not become an official NCAA stat until 1985-86.
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.