With a solid group of veterans being joined by one of the top recruiting classes in the country, California is expected to rebound from a 2014-15 season in which they didn’t play in a postseason tournament in a big way in 2015-16. Thursday afternoon the program announced that it has completed its non-conference schedule, with the Golden Bears hosting fellow Bay Area program Saint Mary’s December 12.
“This should be a great game. Our two Bay Area schools have a strong basketball tradition,” California head coach Cuonzo Martin said in the release. “We have not played one another in more than a decade and I know our fans will appreciate the matchup. We are fortunate that a game between our two schools worked out on the schedule this year. Hopefully, we will be able to compete against one another more often in the future.”
Martin’s team, which will be led by senior point guard Tyrone Wallace and includes talented options such as juniors Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews and freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, is expected to contend in the Pac-12 as well as make some waves nationally. In addition to the game against Saint Mary’s, Cal will play in the Las Vegas Invitational November 26-27 against San Diego State with West Virginia and Richmond matching up in the other semifinal.
The Golden Bears will play just two true road games before the start of Pac-12 play, but both of those matchups provide interesting challenges. Wyoming, which will host the Golden Bears December 5, lost four starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team but the altitude in Laramie (the highest in Division I) is even higher than what Cal experiences in road games at Utah and Colorado.
And the other road non-conference game should rate among the best in the country this season, as Cal will visit Virginia December 22. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers have finished atop the ACC standings (regular season) in each of the last two seasons, and they’re expected to contend again in 2015-16.
Saint Mary’s lands Rivals150 guard in Class of 2016
Saint Mary’s landed an impact guard on Monday as Rivals150 guard Jordan Ford pledged to the Gaels. The 6-foot-0 native of Folsom, California was down to a final three of Oregon State, UC-Santa Barbara and Saint Mary’s before deciding on the WCC program.
Regarded as the No. 138 prospect in the Class of 2016, Ford can score or distribute and should be a really nice fit in head coach Randy Bennett’s system. During the spring and summer with the Oakland Soldiers, Ford played in 20 games and averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He also shot 43 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line in EYBL play.
Ford is Saint Mary’s first commitment in the Class of 2016 and represents a great start going forward for the group.
I am more than blessed to say I have officially committed to Saint Mary's #Gaels 🙏
In recent years the rivalry between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga has developed into one of the best in the western United States, with the combination of skilled players and high stakes resulting in intense match-ups whether the game was being played during the regular season or WCC tournament. Thursday night the two programs met in Spokane with matching 7-0 conference records, and with Brad Waldow serving as their anchor in the post the Gaels are the biggest threat to Gonzaga’s quest to win yet another WCC regular season title.
But after Waldow accounted for ten points and five rebounds in the game’s first 20 minutes, keeping Saint Mary’s well within striking distance, the senior power forward was kept in check by the Gonzaga big men and the Bulldogs eventually won by the final score of 68-47.
Saint Mary’s may have shot a slightly higher percentage in the second half than they did in the first, but a lot of that damage was done early and with their primary scoring option neutralized the Gaels struggled mightily as the half wore on. Mark Few’s team shot 52.9% from the field on the night, with Kevin Pangos leading three players in double figures with 14 points while also dishing out five assists, and they limited Saint Mary’s to 36 percent shooting.
Against Waldow (14 points, 6-for-13 FG) the Bulldogs mixed things up defensively, sometimes defending him with a single player and in other spots sending over a second big to double Waldow. With Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer (they combined for 30 points and 31 rebounds) at his disposal, Few is able to defend a big man of Waldow’s caliber in multiple ways. With Waldow less effective, the Bulldogs were able to put together a 19-2 second half run that removed any doubt as to which team would win the game.
While Gonzaga has always been praised for its ability to put points on the board, the strides made defensively the last two years have been overlooked by some. This isn’t a group that’s going to rack up the “glamour” stats that tend to be referenced when the nation’s best defenses are discussed, as they’re in the middle of the pack nationally in both steals and blocks per game.
But they’re solid when it comes to positioning and limiting quality looks, forcing opponents to make contested shots more often than not. That’s resulted in Gonzaga leading the WCC in field goal percentage defense (38.4%) and trailing only Pepperdine in three-point percentage defense (30.6%). Thursday night, in addition to their 36 percent night from the field Saint Mary’s mad just two of its 15 three-pointers with guard Aaron Bright going scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting (0-for-5 3PT).
Thursday’s game can be viewed as Saint Mary’s missing out on an opportunity to bolster their resume with a win over the best team they’ve faced to date. But this was about Gonzaga, with the Bulldogs taking away Saint Mary’s best offensive option in the second half and handing the Gaels their biggest defeat of the season.
WCC Midseason Catchup: No. 8 Gonzaga leads the way
College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the WCC, with conference play set to begin Saturday.
MIDSEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws, BYU
The 10-3 Cougars have four players averaging double figures, with one of the nation’s best scorers in Haws leading the way. Averaging 22.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, Haws is shooting 48.6% from the field, 41 percent from three and 88.6% from the foul line.
THE ALL-WCC FIRST TEAM
Tyler Haws, BYU
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Few transfers in America have been as productive as Wiltjer (16.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) has been for the Bulldogs.
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow’s averaging 21.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, shooting 55.5% from the field.
Stacy Davis, Pepperdine: Davis (16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.2 apg) is a big reason why the Waves are off to a 7-3 start.
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: Averaging 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, Collinsworth is the WCC’s most versatile player.
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. Gonzaga should be respected as a Final Four contender. Mark Few’s Bulldogs are ranked eighth nationally with an 11-1 record, with their lone defeat coming in overtime at No. 3 Arizona. Gonzaga’s front court, which features Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, has been very good and the addition of Byron Wesley on the wing has helped as well. Add in senior Kevin Pangos, and the Bulldogs enter league play with five players averaging at least ten points per game.
2. Anson Winder’s been an impact reserve for BYU. To this point in the season Winder has been the most improved player in the WCC, as he’s gone from averaging 6.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 2013-14 to 14.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest for the Cougars. And after reaching double figures in ten games last season, Winder’s already done so in 11 of BYU’s 12 games in 2014-15. Haws and Collinsworth are going to do the “heavy lifting” for BYU offensively, but the production of Winder and Chase Fischer (13.7 ppg) has been important for Dave Rose’s squad.
3. Offensive balance will continue to be key for Portland. Eric Reveno’s Pilots are off to a 9-3 start to the season, and one reason for the start has been their balance. Four starters, led by guards Alec Wintering (11.7 ppg) and Kevin Bailey (11.5), are averaging at least 10.2 points per game. However Bailey’s missed time with a left foot injury, and it remains to be seen just how long the Pilots will play without their sixth man. Until then, freshman D’Marques Tyson (8.3 ppg) will be asked to step forward in his reserve role.
THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW
1. Gonzaga’s point guard depth. With Josh Perkins (broken jaw) out since late November and possibly redshirting, Pangos has spent even more time on the ball. With his experience having Pangos run the show is no problem at all, but who steps forward to give him a rest or allow Pangos to look for his offense off the ball on occasion? One thing to keep in mind here is the addition of Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan, who becomes eligible in early January. In 12 games at Vanderbilt last season, McClellan averaged 14.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
2. The development of BYU’s front court. This became even more important when Nate Austin went down with a torn hamstring, thus leaving the Cougars without much in the way of experience in the paint. Players such as Luke Worthington, Isaac Neilson and Corbin Kaufusi have been asked to step forward, and they’ve all had their moments in the games since Austin’s injury. Austin’s numbers (3.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) don’t jump off the page but he is BYU’s best big man when it comes to rebounding (Kyle Collinsworth leads all Cougars with 8.1 rpg), so the sooner he returns the better.
3. How many NCAA tournament bids will the WCC receive? Gonzaga’s a lock barring an epic collapse, and BYU looks to be in solid shape as well with their home win over Stanford looking better thanks to the Cardinal winning at Texas. But can the WCC earn more bids? Saint Mary’s has a win at Creighton on its resume, and they’ve also defeated two teams in New Mexico State and UC Irvine that should contend for their respective league titles, but that loss to Northern Arizona doesn’t help matters.
1. Gonzaga loses no more than three conference games for the 17th consecutive season. The Bulldogs will be challenged in conference play, especially on the road with a game at BYU opening things up Saturday. But this is a rather safe prediction to make given their track record. And they’ll once again win the WCC regular season title in the process.
2. Pepperdine will finish in the top half of the WCC. The Waves haven’t shot the ball as well as they would like, ranking eighth in field goal percentage and ninth in three-point percentage. But they’ve been good defensively, which is an important development for a team looking to account for the graduation of WCC Defensive POY Brendan Lane. Look for Stacy Davis and company to finish higher than seventh, which is what the league coaches predicted in October.
3. The WCC gets two NCAA tournament bids. While the story line to follow leaves open the door for Saint Mary’s, two bids seems likely for the WCC with Gonzaga and BYU being the recipients. Will Gonzaga have a shot at earning a one-seed for the second time in program history? By the time we get to late February, that may be the biggest NCAA tournament-related question for the WCC.
Weekly Awards: Kyle Wiltjer’s continued growth, and Kansas wins again
Gonzaga is in the Pac-12 portion of their schedule, as they knocked off Washington State and UCLA this past week after losing to Arizona in overtime last week. Wiltjer was Gonzaga’s leading scorer for the week, averaging 22.5 points and 5.0 boards while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and 5-for-7 from three in the two wins.
Wiltjer has just about made the transition into Gonzaga’s go-to guy this season. Kevin Pangos is the engine that makes this team run, but it’s Wiltjer’s ability to shoot and score from the perimeter that has made them so tough to guard. If you put a smaller player on him, Wiltjer can go into the post and make you pay. If you use a bigger player on him, Gonzaga can put him in pick-and-roll actions with Kevin Pangos, which have proven to be lethal. If you decide to go zone, Wiltjer helps spread the floor for Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski in the paint, working in high-low passes.
Wiltjer is a much different player than Kelly Olynyk, but the impact the former Kentucky Wildcat is having on this team is the same.
THE ALL-THEY-WERE-GOOD, TOO TEAM
Ron Baker, Wichita State: In wins over Seton Hall and at Detroit, Baker averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 boards and 3.5 assists.
TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma: Thomas played his best game as a Sooner on Saturday. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting and added three blocks in a win over Tulsa, finally showing why everyone considered his waiver to be immediately eligible a season-changer.
Ty Wallace, Cal: Cal won a pair of close games this week, thanks in large part to Wallace, who finished with 40 points, 16 boards, eight assists and five steals in two games.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers went into Oxford and knocked off Ole Miss on Saturday, and Price led the way with 26 points, 10 boards and five assists.
Amida Brimah, UConn: UConn played just one game this week, and it was Brimah that was the star. The 7-foot Ghanaian finished with 40 points on 13-for-13 shooting from the floor and 14-for-16 shooting from the line in a win over Coppin State. He had 56 points on the season coming in.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks
I wrote extensively on Kansas last week after seeing them go into the Verizon Center and knock off a good Georgetown team. You can read that here. If you don’t want to click, my point is essentially this: Kansas is nowhere near complete right now, yet they have already beating Utah, Michigan State, Florida and Tennessee and won at Georgetown. So what happens when they get to full strength?
Kelly Oubre is coming along nicely, as he’s starting to figure things out defensively and getting more aggressive — and a longer leash — offensively. Cliff Alexander is not going to be more than a effort guy that rebounds and dunks and defends this season, but he’s getting closer to being someone that can have a major impact in games. Wayne Selden and Frank Mason are getting more consistent.
It all seemed to be trending in the right direction … until Devonte’ Graham’s toe injury was announced. There’s speculation that he could miss the rest of the season, which would be a major, major blow. We know Kansas has point guard issues. They have for a long time now. And with Conner Frankamp transferring to Wichita State, Mason is now the only point guard on the team.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Colorado State Rams: The Rams won a pair of games this week, but the notable one came on Wednesday when they went into Boulder and knocked off Colorado. CSU is still undefeated this season.
Iowa State Cyclones: Three games this week, three wins. UMKC and Southern are whatever, but the Cyclones also went into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and blew out Iowa on Friday night.
Saint Mary’s Gaels: The Gaels picked up a huge win on Saturday afternoon, going into Omaha and knocking off Creighton in overtime despite the fact that star big man Brad Waldow struggled and Kerry Carter fouling out in overtime.
Incarnate Word Cardinals: The Cardinals lost their first game of the season this week. They also went into Nebraska and knocked off the Cornhuskers. Ken Burmeister has himself a pretty good ball club.
Wofford Terriers: The Terriers are now 8-2 on the season after going into Raleigh and beating N.C. State. They got a bit lucky, but they also got the win, so who cares?
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:
UConn vs. No. 2 Duke, Thu. 8:00 p.m.
No. 3 Arizona at UTEP, Fri. 11:00 p.m.
Syracuse at No. 7 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
No. 21 North Carolina vs. No. 12 Ohio State, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
No. 15 Butler vs. Indiana, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
No. 16 Oklahoma at No. 17 Washington, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
New Mexico State and Saint Mary’s met early Tuesday morning, and something that wasn’t an issue for either team was energy as both teams played hard from the start. What was an issue, however, was the teams’ ability to execute offensively as the Aggies and Gaels combined to commit 38 turnovers. Saint Mary’s was the better of the two teams in regards to how they executed when they didn’t turn the ball over, shooting 54.2% from the field in the 83-71 victory.
Randy Bennett’s Gaels managed to score 1.1 points per possession despite turning the ball over on 29 percent of their possessions, with the team assisting on just over 69 percent of its made baskets. Emmett Naar (seven assists) and Kerry Carter (six) were responsible for 13 of Saint Mary’s 18 assists, with Carter also accounting for 12 points, nine rebounds and three steals as he just missed out on his second double-double in as many games.
By comparison New Mexico State shot just 36 percent from the field, with reigning WAC Player of the Year Daniel Mullings scoring a team-best 18 points to lead Marvin Menzies’ Aggies.
Mullings was one of three headliners to be hampered by early foul trouble, with teammate Tshilidzi Nephawe and Saint Mary’s forward Brad Waldow also picking up two first-half fouls. And while Nephawe was unable to get going in the second half the same couldn’t be said for Waldow, with the All-WCC player tallying 14 points and ten rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
Waldow finished the game with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and that performance combined with those of guards Carter and Aaron Bright (21 points, four assists) and forward Garrett Jackson (16 points, six rebounds) proved to be too much for the visitors from Las Cruces to overcome.
Saint Mary’s will undoubtedly look to clean things up offensively moving forward, as they committed 22 turnovers on the night. But even with that being the case, the Gaels’ work when they were able to take care of the basketball proved to be the difference.