WHAT WE THINK - PREVIEWING WEEK FIVE OF WCC PLAY
One of the most anticipated games of the college basketball season takes place on Thursday night involving a pair of West Coast Conference teams. Imagine that.
In a matchup of 7-0 teams playing for the conference lead, SAINT MARY’S (15-3) takes on No. 3 GONZAGA (18-1) in Spokane in an 8 p.m. game broadcast on ESPNU. The Gaels are not given much of a chance against the giant of the conference and that’s probably a good place for coach Randy Bennett’s team to be.
The Gaels are riding a high after an emotional win over BYU on Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion, where the temperature was, oh, about 97 degrees with all the bodies crammed inside. That pushed their record to 7-0 following a defeat of SAN DIEGO on Thursday to cap off a great week in Moraga.
“Our guys had not had that game yet,’’ Bennett said. “This (BYU) was the first time we had it, full house, get crazy. We needed that. It was good that we won it. It’s another step of confidence for us. We played well, both games. Our guys … want to be good and they’re doing the things you need to do to get better.’’
BYU has now played, and lost to, both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, the former at home and the latter on the road. So the Cougars are in a good position to assess Thursday night’s big game. Top scorer Tyler Haws gives the Gaels a fighter’s chance against the nation’s No. 3 team.
“Gosh, Saint Mary’s, they fight for 40 minutes,’’ he said. “They don’t back down when you make a run, they don’t get on their heels. They’ll give Gonzaga a game.’’
The game is intriguing for the matchups it presents. Will Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have their way in the backcourt vs. Saint Mary’s Aaron Bright and Kerry Carter? Can the Zags’ 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski deal with the skilled offensive game of Brad Waldow? Will the Saint Mary’s duo of forwards Garrett Jackson and Desmond Simmons be able to contain 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer on the perimeter?
Who the heck knows? That’s why we watch these games.
Here is What We Think about the rest of the WCC’s slate of games for this week:
- At 5-2 in conference play, PEPPERDINE has a decent chance to emerge unscathed from its trip to the Bay Area to play SAN FRANCISCO (2-5) on Thursday and SANTA CLARA (3-4) on Saturday. At this point in the season, the Waves are trying to remain a game in front of BYU (5-3) in the standings.
- Regardless how its game against Gonzaga plays out on Thursday, the Gaels must guard against a letdown two nights later at PORTLAND (2-5). The Pilots, meanwhile, are trying to rise above three other 2-win teams in the conference in USF, PACIFIC (2-5) and SAN DIEGO (2-6). Said Bennett, “Our guys have been around the league enough.”
- Notwithstanding the Jesuit underpinnings of the conference, USF should seek out a shaman to lift the curse on its free throw shooters. The Dons might have another win or two this season if they had managed to shoot better than 60 percent from the line. One player, who shall for mercy’s sake go unnamed, missed the rim entirely as his ball bounced against the right side of the backboard’s square inset at Santa Clara. Wide right, as they say of errant field goal attempts in football.
Heady times on Hilltop
This is a week of serious ancestor worship for USF. Those attending Thursday night’s game vs. Pepperdine and Saturday night’s game vs. LMU had better be prepared to clap their hands with gusto.
First, the university will raise a banner at Memorial Gym honoring its groundbreaking football team of 1951 at halftime of the Pepperdine game. That undefeated squad, which featured three players who would be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame among eight that went on to play in the NFL, took a stand against racism by refusing to play in the Orange Bowl when officials there asked the Dons not to bring their two black players, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler.
Matson was one of those future Hall of Famers (along with Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair), Toler became the first black field official in NFL history in 1965 and USF’s sports information director at the time, Pete Rozelle, went on to serve as commissioner of the NFL for 29 years.
Other than that, those ’51 Dons accomplished very little.
USF will turn its attention to basketball on Saturday before the LMU game when it honors the 1954-55 and ’55-56 teams that won back-to-back NCAA championships under coach Phil Woolpert featuring legendary players Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. (Neither Russell nor Jones will be able to attend, unfortunately.) Festivities include a private luncheon on campus in the afternoon followed by a ceremony before the 7 p.m. tip-off.
Eugene Brown, Mike Farmer and 10 other players from those teams will be in attendance, along with Ross Giudice, a member of USF’s NIT-winning team of 1949 and later an assistant coach and head coach of the Dons.
(An article commemorating the 60th anniversary of USF’s 1954-55 NCAA championship team is to be published in the official program at this year’s Final Four, authored by yours truly.)
BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth has already tied the NCAA single-season record for triple-doubles with four. Two more the rest of the way in 2014-15 and he will tie the career record for this numerically contradictory but highly respected category.
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.