WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC BASKETBALL - CONFERENCE WEEKEND NO. 7
After watching GONZAGA take the best shots SANTA CLARA and SAN FRANCISCO had to offer in a pair of road games last week and still remain undefeated in conference play, it’s apparent it will take an extraordinary effort for anyone to beat the Zags the rest of the way.
“I think some guys can make a run,’’ said USF coach Rex Walters, whose guys in the green and gold made a strong run at Gonzaga for 35 minutes before succumbing 81-70 on Saturday night at Memorial Gym. “All you need is one bad night.’’
Two nights earlier, on Thursday at the Leavey Center, Santa Clara had a two-point lead at halftime and was four points down 29 minutes into the game on the way to a 77-63 defeat. For its part, Gonzaga welcomes the challenge put forth by opponents in front of raucous home crowds. Santa Clara and USF had their biggest crowds of the season for the Zags.
“As a team we really don’t want close games but those are good tests for us,’’ Gonzaga forward Kyle
Wiltjer said. “We want to be prepared. It was a fun environment (at Santa Clara). It was a really good test for us. … We consider ourselves a really good team. Everyone wants to beat us. Being ranked pretty high, we’re going to get each team’s best.’’
Wiltjer’s teammate, Domantas Sabonis, said getting the best an opponent has to offer can only help his team as it prepares for life beyond the WCC Tournament.
“I think it’s great for us,’’ he said. “We’re going to play in the NCAA Tournament and games like this, we have to be ready for them.’’
So complete and so deep is this Gonzaga team that many basketball people are saying this is the year for the Zags to make the Final Four. That can put a weighty amount of pressure on a team. Coach Mark Few goes as far as to say he hasn’t had a team this deep in his 16 years in Spokane.
“It’s definitely different from what we’ve had in the past,’’ he said. “We can score at all five spots on the floor at any time. They do a great job of selflessly making the extra pass. … The guys are selfless enough and don’t get too hung up on their personal agendas.’’
Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating is hoping at least two Gonzaga players pursue their personal agendas and decide to play professionally – like next year. He was referring to the 6-foot-10 Wiltjer, a redshirt junior, and Sabonis, a 6-10 freshman.
“There are four pros on that team,’’ Keating said. “The two left-handers are going to make millions with those left hands, hopefully next year.’’
Otherwise, What We Learned at the two-thirds mark of the conference season is:
- PEPPERDINE is the most confounding team in the conference. Though tied for third with BYU at 8-5, the Waves had a great chance to jump the Cougars into sole possession of third until laying an ostrich egg, make that a big, rotten, stinking one, at home against SAN DIEGO. Not only did Pep lose to a middling Toreros team, the final score of 72-50 had coach Marty Wilson going on Twitter to apologize to fans of the blue and orange.
- As long as it holds up its end and keeps racking up wins the rest of the season, 18-5 SAINT MARY’S should have a decent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. And an upset of the Zags on Feb. 21 in Moraga would certainly improve the Gaels’ RPI, currently at 63. Getting a third team in the tournament is another matter. BYU might slip in with a strong finish but PEPPERDINE is probably looking at the NIT.
- With his unmatched versatility, as revealed again with his NCAA single-season record fifth triple-double of the season, is there a better candidate for WCC Player of the Year than BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth? The 6-foot-6 point guard scores 13.0 points per game and is second in the conference with 8.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game and is No. 1 in steals at 2.0 per. Others score more, Saint Mary’s Brad Waldow rebounds more and SAN DIEGO’s Christopher Anderson passes out more assists, but no one does as much as well as Collinsworth. Another triple-double this season and Collinsworth will accomplish an NCAA career record in one year.
- He hasn’t scored a point, grabbed a rebound or coached a single minute, yet Al Epstein qualifies as a West Coast Conference legend for his work behind the microphone at Pepperdine games. The “Voice of the Waves,’’ Epstein worked his 900th consecutive Pepperdine men’s basketball games on Saturday night. Epstein, co-author of the how-to text “Play-By-Play Sportscast Training,” started calling Pepperdine games in 1985-86 and is still going strong. He figures to hit 1,000 games late in the 2017-18 season.
Tweet of the week
Stacy Davis IV @StacyDavisIV
"You should never be proud of doing what's right. You should just do what's right." - Dean Smith
Quote of the week
“My mindset is there’s nobody in the gym. You’re playing basketball. You’re playing the greatest game in the world and getting a scholarship to do it … a $53,000 scholarship to do it.’’
That’s USF coach Rex Walters, saying his team should not have been more motivated playing the No. 2 team in the country in Gonzaga than any other game. Even though it was.
Stat line of the week
In a game against USF that was close until the final three minutes, Gonzaga needed all of Kyle Wiltjer’s 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting (3 of 6 on three-point shots). He also had 11 rebounds and 2 assists.
Follow the three dots...
San Diego’s Johnny Dee is now up to third in Division I in free throw percentage at .927 (101 of 109). He trails Wyoming’s Riley Grabau (.944) and Oregon’s Joseph Young (.934). Dee, however, has attempted 30 more free throws than Grabau and Young. … Thanks to 70 percent man Sabonis, Gonzaga leads the conference in field goal percentage, .532. … BYU has been a little inconsistent at times this season but it is No. 1 in the conference in assists per game, steals per game and three-point shots made per game. … Looks like Santa Clara (5-8), LMU (4-9), USF (3-10) and Pacific (2-10) will be playing on the first day of the conference tournament, March 5, although the Broncos could still overtake Portland (5-7) for sixth to earn a bye into the quarterfinals.
A limited number of all-session passes were just released by the West Coast Conference Monday, Jan. 26 for the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-10 at the Orleans Arena. All-session passes 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 $175 for all nine men's games and all nine women's games, 18 games in all.
Breaking it down, that's $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.