Crumpacker: What We Think - 1/24/18
Big showdowns looming as conference wraps first half, opens second half of #WCChoops play
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
Winners of 14 in a row, undefeated in conference play, one victory shy of 20 for the season, coming off a big win at Gonzaga, these are heady times in Moraga for the Galloping Gaels of Saint Mary's.
Coach Randy Bennett has his 19-2 team in position to win the West Coast Conference regular season championship and storm into the conference tournament in March with saddlebags full of momentum, which is what a Galloping Gael would have strapped to the back of his mount, I guess. Saddlebags, that is.
But looming on Thursday night is BYU, coming to McKeon Pavilion in Moraga for a game on ESPN2 with a significant number of Cougars fans in attendance. I went to one such game three years ago in which the small facility was packed to the rafters and superheated with all those enthusiastic fans on both sides cheering on their teams.
In that environment, hydration is vital for all involved - players, coaches, officials and spectators.
It would be a significant accomplishment for BYU to come into McKeon and knock off the Gaels. Saint Mary's has a nice little streak of four straight wins vs. BYU and is 163-20 at home the last 10 seasons. Juxtapose that against BYU's 5-1 record on the road and the Cougars still come up short.
However, coach Dave Rose happens to have what I consider to be the best teammate tandem in the WCC in guard Elijah Bryant and forward Yoeli Childs. With all due respect to likely WCC Player of the Year Jock Landale (22.4 ppg, 19.2 rpg) and assist man par excellance Emmett Naar (9.1 per game, No. 2 nationally), BYU counters with Bryant, at 18.0 points and 6.4 assists per game, and Childs, at 17.6 and 9.0 with 2.0 blocks per game.
This is, in all respects, the second heavyweight game for Saint Mary's in its last three contests after knocking off then-No. 13 Gonzaga in Spokane on Thursday and surviving a close game at Pacific on Saturday. The Gaels should be battle-tested for BYU on a night when its prodigious pipeline of talented Aussies is celebrated (see below).
Game of the Week
That would be, Saturday afternoon at 1 when San Diego heads up I-5 to face Loyola Marymount at Gersten Pavilion. On the surface, at least, the game is much more meaningful for the Toreros than the Lions. USD is 4-4 in the WCC, 13-7 overall, and needs to win to remain in the top half of the conference. Its first game of the week, on Thursday at home against Santa Clara, is no sure thing as the Broncos are also 4-4 in conference play. San Diego has developed a reputation as having a staunch defense this season and will need that stout `D' on Saturday.
What We Learned
- So much for the momentum generated by Portland after the Pilots scored their first two conference wins last week -- and on the road, no less - by sweeping San Diego and Loyola Marymount. In a daunting week, Portland on Thursday hosts No. 15 Gonzaga, still smarting from a rare home loss to No. 16 Saint Mary's, and plays those undefeated Gaels in Moraga on Saturday. Good luck to the Purple.
- In need of a translator? (And who isn't?) Portland's 6-foot-9 freshman, Tahirou Diabate, is your man of many tongues. In a young life rich with travel, the native of Mali speaks five languages, which is about four more than most people in the country in which he now lives. Diabate has lived in France, the Canary Islands and Japan and now Portland. He speaks his native dialect, Bambara, along with French, English, Spanish and Japanese. Thus, Diabate is the only player in the WCC who can talk trash with Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura, who grew up in Japan.
- Although I grew up in Los Angeles proper, I never knew that the Pepperdine-LMU series was called the PCH Cup, as in Pacific Coast Highway. The logo of the PCH Cup says, "2 schools, 1 road, 19.1 miles of rivalry.'' The Waves have a 99-67 edge in the PCH Cup and will try for No. 100 on Thursday night at Firestone Fieldhouse.
From Few, many
With his team's 75-60 win at Santa Clara, Gonzaga's Mark Few became the first coach in WCC history to reach 250 conference victories in a testament to his staying power and successful formula for building a program that is now entrenched. No other WCC coach has as many as 200, although Saint Mary's Bennett, with 178, will hit that figure in the next couple of seasons.
Promotions, we have promotions!
This is Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers week throughout college basketball, when grown men lace up the same kinds of shoes their players wear for the cause of raising money and awareness for cancer research. Having seen a number of these games in person, I can report that some coaches can pull off the look while others cannot. The fun is in spotting those who can't.
Meanwhile, it's Australia Night at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, when all things antipode (well, maybe not box jellyfish, bush flies and the deadly Inland Taipan snake) will be celebrated on Thursday night when the Gaels host BYU in the biggest game of the week in the WCC. The first 500 students through the doors will receive free T-shirts while Australian-themed food and various promotions are in the offing. Six of the 15 players on Saint Mary's roster are from Down Under.
Having been to Australia twice and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I'll beg off the Vegemite, that mysterious dark paste that to me tastes like a combination of melted Crayons, axel grease and old motor oil. Yum!
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. Crumpacker has been covering #WCChoops since the 2014-15 season.