Crumpacker: What We Learned - 2/12/18
Zags & Gaels recap... take two
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
What happened on Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion was an example of a highly motivated team with superior athletic talent exacting payback on an opponent that dictated the style, tempo and outcome of their first meeting three weeks ago.
Gonzaga’s 78-65 victory over Saint Mary’s created a tie for first place in the West Coast Conference men’s basketball standings at 13-1. The Gaels won the first meeting, in Spokane, on Jan. 18 by 74-71. The Zags returned the favor, in Moraga, with a much more convincing outcome than the final score might have indicated since they led at various points 22-5, 60-42 and 69-48.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth,’’ Gaels guard Jordan Ford said with all due candor.
There is nothing to suggest that these two worthies will not meet for the WCC Tournament championship on March 6 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The entire season has served as an ongoing confirmation that Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, or Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, are that much better than the other eight teams in the conference.
And that’s just fine, as both schools, ranked in the top 15 nationally and with solid RPI numbers, will be going to the NCAA Tournament. Certainly, it would make for a good story for other teams in the top half of the conference to challenge the hegemony of Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, or Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga.
Asked what message Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett imparted to his team after the game, center Jock Landale said, “That we have work to do. We need guys to step up in big games like that and we can’t shy from a big stage. That is not what Saint Mary’s is about. Some of us have to do a better job with that.’’
In the process of dismantling one of the most efficient teams in the country, Gonzaga laid out a template for how to defend the probable most valuable player in the conference, Landale. Simply put, Gonzaga double-teamed the heck out of him, with 6-foot-9 Johnathan Williams, the WCC’s Player of the Week, often behind Landale in the low post while a teammate rushed in to pester him from the front.
Williams and his help-side teammates served as whole grain, high fiber slices of bread wrapped around this 6-11 slice of deli meat. Landale came into the game averaging 22.8 points per game with seven games of 30 points or more this season.
He left with a season-low four points. Four measly points on 2-of-4 shooting. It was a stunning display of strategy by coach Mark Few and his staff and defensive will by his players. To hold the best player in the conference 18 points below his average is a statement made bold faced IN ALL CAPS.
To be fair, the rest of Landale’s game was just fine. He had 10 rebounds, right on his conference-leading average, to go with 4 assists, 4 blocks and 1 steal. The brilliance of Gonzaga’s defensive effort is that it limited Landale in what he does best, that being to score at will in the low post.
“He took what they gave him,’’ Bennett said, which, it turned out, was nothing. “He did his job. We didn’t have our ‘A’ game and there were a number of guys who didn’t play well for us.’’
The question going forward for the Gaels is how much this game will impact them in the last two weeks of conference play. Will it prove to be a soul-crushing loss or something to quickly put in the rearview mirror and step on the gas?
Either way, look for these two teams to face off again in three weeks with the WCC title, but not NCAA berths, at stake.
What We Learned
1) With its no-doubt-about-it win at Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga earned its way back into the Associated Press Top 10 rankings at No. 9, while the Gaels dropped from 11th to 15th. As well, Gonzaga’s RPI number climbed from 46 to 36 to all but ensure an NCAA Tournament berth, regardless of the outcome of the WCC Tournament. In a week in which several Top 10 teams tumbled, the Zags stepped up and reminded the rest of the hoops-watching public that they are a team to be reckoned with.
2) Minus a hiccup in the last two weeks of conference play, it looks like BYU will claim third place going into the WCC Tournament. At 9-5, the Cougars are a game up on Pacific (8-6), two games up on San Diego (7-7) and three on USF (6-8) and Santa Clara (6-8). BYU had a good week, beating Santa Clara and using a furious rally at the end of regulation to extend the game and edge USF in overtime.
3) Pacific and San Diego should be particularly motivated to finish strong in the final four games of conference play, as 2017-18 represents a significant improvement for both schools. The Tigers were 4-14 a year ago while the Toreros were 6-12. USD has a favorable schedule the rest of the way, with three straight home games, beginning Thursday with Pacific. Pacific is home for Santa Clara on the 17th and USF on the 22 nd. The Tigers finish up at LMU on the 24th.
Stat Line of the Week
It was a real close choice for for SLOTW. Real close. Two games stood out as Santa Clara’s K.J. Feagin had 32 points in a six-point win over San Diego (70-64) while Loyola Marymount’s Steven Haney had 31 points in a six-point win over Pepperdine (85-79).
The nod goes to Feagin because he got his 32 the old-fashioned way, hitting on 14 of 21 shots – all inside the 3-point arc. Haney got his 31 by nailing 6 of 11 from 3-point range. Feagin had more rebounds than Haney (4 to 2) and even found time to dish out one assist. Both players were perfect from the free throw line (Haney 9-for-9, Feagin 4-for-4).
The deciding factor was Feagin’s prolific game came against a better opponent than Haney’s. Well done by both players.
Quote of the Week
“We avenged a brutal loss at their place, family day was good for our fans and school, and there’s nothing better for our staff and our players to get the win.’’
Tweet of the Week
HIGHLIGHTS | KJ Feagin and Josip Vrankic were straight 🔥 🔥 🔥 late in today's @WCCSports victory over San Diego! FULL HIGHLIGHTS ▶️ https://t.co/4WfogHYJt2 #StampedeAhead #SCUBroncos #WCCHoops pic.twitter.com/pUsI0iWIGi
— Santa Clara Hoops (@SantaClaraHoops) February 11, 2018
No margin for error
Chances are, a USF game is going to be a close one. The Dons are one game above .500 at 14-13, average 68.4 points per game, allow 68.0 points per game and have a +0.7 rebounding edge on their opponents.
In truth, USF’s stock market of a season has been volatile to say the least, with two wins by 23 points each and one loss by 36 points. Seven games have been decided by two points and one by three.
Follow the three dots…
Okonkwo is OK. That’s Namdi Okonkwo. Pacific’s 7-foot graduate senior is leading the WCC with 2.6 blocks per game. … More on LMU’s Haney: He hit his 200th and 201st career 3-point shot vs. Pepperdine to become only the third Lion with at least 200 treys. Ahead of him on the school’s career list are Jeff Fryer (363) and Terrell Lowery (261). With his six treys vs. Pepperdine, Haney moved past Bo Kimble into third place. “Steve has the green light of anyone on our team,’’ Dunlap said. “I’m just really happy for him, plus 9-for-9 from the free throw line can’t be overlooked.’’ … How about that? For hitting the game-winning shot, a short jumper, with three seconds left to defeat Portland 60-58, Pacific’s Miles Reynolds was named the City of Stockton Human Resources Player of the Game. He finished with 25 points. … How about that II: BYU, San Diego, Portland and Pacific all average 4.1 blocks per game. … Marksmen: 11 players in the conference are hitting at least 40 percent of their 3-point shots, topped by D’Marques Tyson of Portland at .481.
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.