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West Coast Notebook

January 28, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

West Coast Conference Notebook

by Mitch Schneider

With a third of the West Coast Conference season already in the books, we can deduce the following: Gonzaga is good; San Diego is bad; and the rest of the league is playing for second-to-seventh place.

Okay, I may be generalizing a bit. After all, we haven’t even hit February yet.

But if the first few weeks of WCC ball have taught us anything, it’s that the ‘Zags are as good as advertised, and we might as well reserve them a spot in the conference title game.

With Gonzaga handing St. Mary’s, the only other undefeated team in West Coast Conference play, their first defeat the weekend before last, the Bulldogs have taken the reigns of the conference and won’t be looking back.

With a 15-2 overall record and 5-0 WCC mark, the Bulldogs have jumped out the gate faster than Democratic candidate John Kerry (and Gonzaga has already staked wins in Idaho, Georgia and Maryland… take that Howard Dean!). The ‘Zags are clearly the cream of the West Coast crop, and teams like St. Mary’s, Santa Clara and Pepperdine will be hard-pressed to overcome these spooks from Spokane.

In fact, the chances of any other team making the tournament are pretty slim, and even if they were capable of beating the Bulldogs, they might have to play in the “play-in” game. At the moment, St. Mary’s is trying to keep their head above water. True, they did beat the mighty Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz, and handily I might add, but they are far from being anything more then a 16th seeded squad. They have played a handful of non-division one games, and have not had an ounce of consistency throughout the entire season. Their longest winning streak is two games, but to their credit, this is also the length of their longest losing streak. Last year, the San Diego team surprised the league with a strong conference showing as well as long winning streaks later in the year. This year, a team has yet to step forward, and time is running out. The goal now for all the teams outside of Gonzaga has to be to get a rhythm in their game, a rhythm that can be translated into a strong conference tournament finish.

The Difference Makers

By now, everyone knows Ronny Turiaf, Cory Violette and Blake Stepp, but what about Yakhouba Diawara, Terrance Johnson, Alex Acker and Glen McGowan? The Pepperdine quartet are all averaging better then 13 points a game. For most of the season, it has been Acker, Johnson and McGowan. Recently, Diawara’s eligibility was reinstated by the NCAA, and he has taken over the team, scoring 16 in his debut against Santa Clara and 24 more recently against Loyola Marymount. Sherman Gay at Loyola Marymount and Eugene Jeter at Portland are having quality seasons as well, but their teams are suffering, especially Loyola Marymount, which entered conference play with a strong record, and is so far 1-4 against conference foes. Brandon Gay at San Diego is also having a strong season, but couldn’t outperform Sherman Gay in the battle of the Gays’. The next rematch will be on Saturday February 14th. Mark the date on your calendar.

WCC Player of the Week

Daniel Kickert, St. Mary’s

Kickert averaged 21.0 points per game in leading the Gaels to wins over Santa Clara and USD last week. The 6-10 forward nailed 17 of 28 shots (61%) in the victories, and was 6-9 behind the arc. Through 19 games, Kickert is netting over 15 points and almost six boards a game for a Gaels’ team that has played extremely well in the early going of the WCC season.

Inside the WCC

Gonzaga (15-2, 5-0)

In its only game of the week, Gonzaga notched its eighth straight victory with an 80-65 win at Portland last Friday. Junior forward Ronny Turiaf had a huge night with 21 points and 14 boards against the Pilots, while teammates Blake Stepp and Cory Violette chipped in 19 and 17 points, respectively, in the win.

Gonzaga connected on 51% of its shots, holding Portland to just 36% shooting for the night.

Leading by just a point at the break, the ‘Zags outscored the Pilots 41-27 in the second half, closing the game on a 19-6 run. The win avenged Gonzaga’s stunning 72-68 loss to Portland last year, and pushed the Bulldogs’ conference record to a gleaming 5-0.

Next up: 1/29 at San Diego; 1/31 at Santa Clara

Loyola Marymount (10-8, 1-4)

After dropping three of its first four games to open the WCC season, LMU took its frustrations out on non-conference opponent, Northern Colorado, winning 74-56 last Tuesday.

Senior forward Sherman Gay made nine of 11 shots en route to a game-high 20 points in leading LMU to the victory. Gay, who also pulled down six rebounds, was one of four Lions to score in double-figures.

LMU netted 23 assists on 30 made field goals, and forced 23 turnovers in just its second home win since Dec. 3 (68-67 vs. Cal-Poly).

Loyola’s victory celebration was short-lived, however, as LMU fell on Saturday 82-67 at Pepperdine. The Lions hung with the Waves most of the game, but poor shooting from three-point range (2-15), along with 18 turnovers ultimately cost the Lions any chance at a second straight win.

Next up: 1/29 vs. San Francisco; 1/31 vs. St. Mary’s

Pepperdine (8-11, 3-2)

The Waves’ 82-67 victory over LMU gave Pepperdine its third WCC win in four games, keeping them in the top half of the conference standings.

Juniors Yakhouba Diawara and Terrance Johnson combined for 47 points in the victory, converting 18 of 30 shots from the floor. Sophomore Alex Acker contributed a dozen points and eight boards for the Waves, as well.

Diawara’s 24-point effort against the Lions was even more remarkable considering that game was just his third this season. The 6-7 JuCo transfer previously scored 18 and 16 points against San Diego (a win) and Santa Clara (a loss), respectively, and is leading the Waves with a 19.3 points per game average.

Next up: 1/29 vs. St. Mary’s; 1/31 vs. San Francisco

Portland (8-10, 2-3)

The Pilots have alternated wins and losses their last five games, and following a Jan. 17 win over USF, Portland promptly dropped one to Gonzaga, 80-65 on Saturday.

Despite the double-digit defeat, Portland hung tight with the ‘Zags all game long. The Pilots actually held the lead twice in the second half, but seemingly ran out of gas down the stretch.

Portland’s Eugene Jeter (18 points) and Donald Wilson (15 points) played inspired ball against Mark Few’s bunch, but no other Pilot topped double-figures in the loss. Surprisingly, the Pilots took 17 more shots than Gonzaga, but made one less field goal for the game.

Portland was within four of the lead with four minutes to go in the second frame, but the ‘Zags used a 19-6 run to clips the Pilots’ wings.

Next up: 1/29 at Santa Clara; 1/31 at San Diego

San Diego (3-16, 0-4)

The Toreros’ trip up north last week solidified one stone-cold fact for San Diego: there’s no way USD will be making a return trip to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

On Thursday, San Diego gave San Francisco its first WCC win, losing 78-68. On Saturday, USD barely showed up in an 86-67 defeat to St. Mary’s. After their Bay Area bomb, the Torero’s are in the throes of an eight-game skid and are the only team in the WCC without a conference win.

It’s not hard to see what ails USD. In its last two losses, San Diego committed 44 turnovers. Junior point guard Michael McGrain accounted for 13 of those miscues, and that’s not the type of production coach Brad Holland would like out of his floor general.

Unfortunately for Holland and company, this week may be even tougher than the last with the ‘Zags and Pilots next up on the slate. On the bright side, the Toreros will be playing those games at home, and all three of USD’s wins this year have come at the Jenny Craig Pavillion.

Next up: 1/29 vs. Gonzaga; 1/31 vs. Portland

San Francisco (12-9, 2-3)

The Dons are the opposite of the Santa Clara Broncos, having won their last two games after starting conference play with three straight losses. Their biggest win to date was against the Big Ten’s Ohio State. They too have the opportunity to make a run in conference, and have shown a resiliency that not too many expected after senior John Cox went down with an injury. They, like many of the West Coast Conference schools, either lose big or win big, and there is no middle ground.

The key to the Dons’ run will be if anyone can step into the shoes of John Cox. The senior guard/forward was injured in the very first game, and has been declared out for the entire season. The left knee injury he suffered forced Cox to seek a second medical redshirt season. The blow left the Dons seeking a new scoring option, and it has boiled down to two forwards, James Bayless and Tyrone Riley.

After the Dons’ three-game losing streak to open conference play, USF collected double-digit wins over San Diego (78-68) and Santa Clara (64-48) to keep itself in the hunt for the WCC crown.

On Thursday, six Dons collected eight or more points and the whole team forced 24 turnovers as San Francisco got by USD at home. Juniors Jovan Harris and Tyrone Riley combined for 33 points in the win, while Andre Hazel dished out a season-high 11 assists for the Dons.

Two days later, San Francisco played lights out defensively against Santa Clara, holding the Broncos to just 37% shooting while forcing 20 turnovers. Oddly, USF won the game despite going just 1-7 from the foul line. Harris led all scorers with a dozen for the Dons.
With those two victories, USF ran its home record to 8-0. Unfortunately the Dons won’t return to the friendly confines of War Memorial Gym until Feb. 7 when they’ll play St. Mary’s.

Next up: 1/29 at LMU; 1/31 at Pepperdine

Santa Clara (11-9, 3-2)

After starting out the WCC season 3-0, Santa Clara got blasted by the Gaels on Thursday, 84-52. The Broncos made only 19 of 57 shots (33%), setting a season-low in points. Santa Clara trailed by 20 at the midway point, and barely showed up to finish the game. Junior guard Kyle Bailey (12 points) was the only horse in double-figures.

Two days later, the Broncos set another season-low for points, falling to USF 64-48. Santa Clara had five more turnovers than made shots (20-15), and connected on just 37% from the field.

Despite its poor play, the Broncos trailed by just one point with 14:45 to play in the second half. However, the Dons exploded on a 15-0 run, shutting the door on Santa Clara and sending them to their second straight conference loss.

Guard play is important on this team, and the two guards, Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey, need to share the ball better, which in turn will raise their shooting percentage which has suffered in recent games.

Next up: 1/29 vs. Portland; 1/31 vs. Gonzaga

St. Mary’s (12-7, 3-1)

The Gaels haven’t won a big game yet, unless you want to call the Banana Slug bashing a real game (the slugs probably got higher from the weed they were smoking then the jumping that they were attempting). However, they have put together a strong conference showing outside of their loss to Gonzaga. They have beaten their conference opponents by an average of 23 points. This might be surprising had not they been winning games outside of conference by around the same margin (24 points non-conference average of victory).

St. Mary’s has played tough teams close. The usual gauge for West Coast Conference teams is how they perform against the Pac-10, and St. Mary’s took UCS to the final shot, losing on a missed three pointer. They also played Arizona close to the very end, losing their lead for the first time with only 55 seconds to play. Predicting that this team would do well in conference play might have been a no brainer had it not been for their loses to other unimpressive teams in non-conference play, such as Montana and UC Riverside, and USC is only 8-9 after all is said and done. All in all, St. Mary’s has only played three games that were decided by less then ten points, against USC, Arizona and Montana. This could be a sign of greatness, or a sign of futility and inconsistency. Either way, they could prove one way or another with big wins during a stretch of four games coming up, three on the road. Couple that with a big win at home over Gonzaga, and maybe this team deserves a little more attention from the bubble.

The Gaels continued putting together their solid season with a pair of wins last week over Santa Clara and San Diego.

In Thursday’s victory over the Broncos, sophomore forward Daniel Kickert led four Gaels in double-figures with 19 points. St. Mary’s shot a healthy 53% from the floor (29-55), which included a masterful performance from behind the arc. The Gaels hit 14-22 from three-point range, with Kickert nailing five of six.

On Saturday, St. Mary’s continued to find the hot hand in its 86-67 win over the Toreros. The Gaels made 30 of 58 shots (52%), and hit nine three’s in the win. Junior guard Paul Marigney produced a game-high 25 points for St. Mary’s, while teammate Kickert had another solid outing with 23 points on 11-16 shooting.

The weekend win was the Gaels fourth triumph in five attempts, and six of eight overall. St. Mary’s remains just a game-and-a-half behind Gonzaga for first place in the WCC.

Next up: 1/29 at Pepperdine; 1/31 at Loyola Marymount

Hoopville Staff Writer Joaquin Mesa contributed to this report.


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