St. Mary’s Gaels

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No. 20 St. Mary’s races past Western Kentucky

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Jock Landale had 15 points and 13 rebounds and No. 20 Saint Mary’s jumped to a quick lead it never relinquished to beat Western Kentucky 73-51 on Wednesday night.

Evan Fitzner scored eight of his team’s first 12 points as the Gaels took control from the tip. He finished with 11 points and three 3-pointers, while Emmett Naar had 14 points and six assists.

Landale went 7 for 13 from the field and is shooting 65 of 99 — 65.6 percent — on the season for the Gaels (8-1), who used a late 13-2 run in the first half for a 38-24 lead.

Justin Johnson and Que Johnson each scored 11 points to lead Western Kentucky (4-6).

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett has challenged his team recently to play with more defensive fire, and the Gaels shut down Pancake Thomas. A graduate transfer in his first season with the Hilltoppers, Thomas shot 2 of 8 for four points and missed his three tries from 3-point range after getting a season-best 22 points in a win over Indiana State on Sunday.

The Hilltoppers shot 37.5 percent and 5 of 17 from 3-point range to lose for the fifth time in six games.

Saint Mary’s guard Joe Rahon limped off with a right leg injury with 4:37 left before halftime then returned just before intermission.

In the first meeting between the programs, Saint Mary’s jumped to a 7-0 lead in the opening 2:27 and 12-2 then never looked back.

BIG PICTURE

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers’ 24 first-half points matched their season low. … WKU dropped to 35-97 all-time against ranked opponents and hasn’t won a true road game against a Top 25 team since stunning No. 4 Kentucky on Nov. 15, 2001. … Coach Rick Stansbury still needs three wins for 300 career victories. … The Hilltoppers will have gone 29 days between home games.

Saint Mary’s: The Hilltoppers were Saint Mary’s second Conference USA opponent after a win over UAB late last month. … Top Warriors assistant Mike Brown sat courtside on an off day before Golden State hosts the Knicks on Thursday. Brown played at San Diego for 16th-year Gaels coach Bennett.

UP NEXT

Western Kentucky: At Detroit Mercy on Saturday to conclude a stretch of seven games on the road or at neutral sites over nearly a month’s time covering more than 10,000 miles and hitting six states.

Saint Mary’s: Host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Sunday in the fourth game of a five-game home stand before the start of conference play.

Potential NCAA tournament bid thieves bubble teams should be rooting against

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This season is a bit weird in that there are only two “mid-major” conferences that will be sending at-large teams to the tournament. That limits some of the potential bid thieves from the smaller leagues, but here is a list of teams that are completely out of the bubble picture with the ability to make a surprise run to their conference tournament title and win an automatic bid:

UConn: I mean, this one is obvious, right? The Huskies, coming off of a national title run, have been one of the country’s most disappointing teams this season. But Ryan Boatright is one of the nation’s most talented guards and capable of carrying UConn the way Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier have done before him. Throw in the fact that Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton seem to finally be hitting their stride, and that Amida Brimah is still swatting away everything at the rim, and Kevin Ollie’s club has the talent to beat anyone in the American. Ask SMU. They lost to UConn on Sunday.

Illinois State: The Redbirds have been beaten up for much of the season, but they’re now healthy and enter Arch Madness having won four straight games. They’re 11-3 against the Valley teams not named Wichita State or Northern Iowa, and three of their four losses to the top two teams in the league were by single digits.

Wyoming: The Cowboys were playing like the best team in the Mountain West midway through league play when Larry Nance Jr., a conference Player of the Year candidate, got mono and missed a few weeks. The Pokes have lost four of their last six since Nance went out, but when he was healthy, they swept Colorado State and beat Boise State in the only matchup between the two teams. At full strength, they can take home the title. But will they — meaning Nance — ever be at full strength this month?

Richmond: The Spiders have been inconsistent this season, but they do have some terrific wins on their resume. To name a few: they swept arch rival VCU and beat George Washington in D.C. You won’t find a team with a more difficult back court to guard than Richmond, who boast a pair of sub-6-foot speed demons in Kendall Anthony and Shawn’Dre Jones. On the nights those two are playing well and Richmond’s threes are dropping, they can beat anyone. And with the Atlantic 10 being wide-open this year, don’t be surprised to see the Spiders make a run.

Kansas State: The Wildcats are in a similar boat as UConn. They certainly have the talent to be an NCAA tournament team, but outside factors — and the inability of Marcus Foster to consistently stay out of trouble — means that they are just 15-15 on the season heading into their finale against Texas. But this group has seven top 50 wins on the season, which includes upsets of both Kansas and Iowa State last week. If they show up ready to play, Kansas State absolutely can earn the automatic bid from the Big 12. And if not, losing in the title game might give them enough quality wins to actually earn an at-large bid. Be nervous, bubble teams.

THREE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON

  • St. Mary’s: Gonzaga is clearly the best team in the WCC, and with BYU streaking, the Cougars look like a tournament team as of today. But don’t sleep on the Gaels, who had a dominant low-post presence in Brad Waldow and surround him with a slew of shooters and high-major transfers.
  • Evansville: Evansville has one of the Valley’s best scorer on the roster in D.J. Balentine and they’re the only team in the conference that actually owns a win over Northern Iowa or Wichita State; they beat the Panthers at home in the conference opener.
  • UNLV: The Rebels have been inconsistent all season long and after still waiting to see if Rashad Vaughn will be back for the MWC tournament. So the odds are long. But consider this: the Rebels are more talented than anyone else in the conference, they beat Arizona in Vegas earlier this season and the MWC tournament will be played in … Vegas.

Three-star 2015 center sets four official visits

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One of the faster rising prospects since the summer is 6-foot-10 center Matt Neufeld. The three-star center, according to Rivals, attends Sunrise Christian Academy this season for his postgrad year and his seen an uptick in his recruiting interest since July.

High-major programs have been tracking and according to Ben Weixlmann of Billiken Report, the center will take official visits to four schools.

Neufeld is taking a trip to St. Mary’s for an official visit this weekend, and then will go to Clemson, Saint Louis, and Colorado on the subsequent weekends thereafter, according to Weixlmann.

With many teams going after the elite centers in the 2015 class, of which there are many, there is still size left on the board for other high-major programs to recruit. But the pool of big men is drying up fast and teams are trying to make a move.

Neufeld is one of those guys looking for the right fit and he’s looking to make a fall decision on a commitment, according to Weixlmann’s report.

A breakdown of every college player at adidas Nations

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LONG BEACH, California — Since adidas Nations featured so many quality college basketball players, the CBT staff has received a lot of questions about how certain guys played that haven’t received a lot of publicity from the event. So Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips decided to give quick breakdowns of each of the college players in attendance last week.

Click here for CBT’s coverage from adidas Nations

Bryce Alford, UCLA: Thrived in catch-and-shoot situations but struggled as a point guard against good competition. (SP)

BeeJay Anya, N.C. State: Having lost nearly 60 pounds since the start of his freshman year, Anya was far more active on both ends of the floor. (RJ)

Jabari Bird, Cal:  The sophomore got stronger as a scorer as the week went and played hard at both ends of the floor. (SP)

Jonah Bolden, UCLA: Bolden had his moments on both ends of the floor, but the level of consistency will need to improve. (RJ)

Perry Ellis, Kansas: Tried to showcase his perimeter ability too much but when he operated extended elbow and in Ellis was tough to stop. (SP)

AJ English, Iona: English played well, knocking down shots and playing solid defense throughout the weekend. (RJ)

Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: One of the more disappointing players in attendance as Goodwin showed bad hands and not enough weight and strength to stop bigger post players. (SP)

Josh Gray, LSU: Gray had some issues finishing in traffic, but his ability to break down defenses off the dribble was on display and that will help LSU’s big men this season. (RJ)

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: The jumper wasn’t falling but the motor kept running for Harrell, as he showed an improved dribble-drive game from the elbow. (SP)

Zak Irvin, MichiganIrvin struggled to knock down catch-and-shoot looks, and there were also issues when it came to creating his own looks. (RJ)

Stanley Johnson, Arizona: The freshman ran through a bevy of tough pro and college wings and handled himself well because of his advanced skill level and college-ready frame. (SP)

Chris Jones, Louisville: Jones did a good job of getting his teammates involved, and he was also aggressive on the defensive end of the floor. (RJ)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky tried too hard to showcase his pick-and-pop ability for NBA scouts and wasn’t hitting shots while also neglecting his post game. (SP)

Shawn Long, Louisiana: Long struggled mightily with the athleticism of the big men he was asked to compete against. (RJ)

Kevon Looney, UCLA:  The only college counselor who didn’t participate in the three-day event due to injury. (SP)

Jordan Mathews, Cal: As with college teammate Jabari Bird, got better as the week went along and finally started to knock in some perimeter jumpers. (SP)

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews is still a work in progress when it comes to running the point, but he played well on both ends of the floor all weekend long. (RJ)

Jordan Mickey, LSU: While he had a quiet weekend offensively, Mickey did a good job on the boards and also as a weak-side defender. (RJ)

Austin Nichols, Memphis: Nichols is skilled as a pick-and-pop guy and showed more willingness to play against physicality, but he’s still largely a non-factor against tough interior presences unless he uses his face-up game. (SP)

Landry Nnoko, Clemson: Nnoko had a tough week in Long Beach, struggling on both ends of the floor. (RJ)

Kelly Oubre, Kansas: Only played for the last day of camp, but the smooth, lefty freshman had a great outing with Stanley Johnson guarding him (6-for-7 from 3PT) and appeared very confident on the offensive end. (SP)

Tony Parker, UCLA: One of the revelations of the weekend, Parker scored well around the basket and proved to be difficult for opponents to keep off the offensive glass. (RJ)

Terran Petteway, Nebraska:  Outstanding week for one of the Big Ten’s best players as he scored aggressively from multiple levels and defended hard on the perimeter. (SP)

Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell was the best performer at the camp, doing a very good job of finding looks offensively and keeping his man in check on the other end. (RJ)

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Looked like one of the best prospects in attendance at times but was prone to over-penetrating and getting himself into tough spots. (SP)

Shavon Shields, Nebraska: Shields got better as the weekend progressed, doing a better job of knocking down open looks and also passing the basketball. (RJ)

Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona: Just an average camp for the junior big man as he walled up well on the defensive end but wasn’t much of a factor on the offensive end. (SP)

Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow played hard but there were multiple occasions in which he struggled with the athleticism on the court. (RJ)

Derrick Walton, Michigan: Walton generally played good overall floor games and operated well in the pick-and-roll, but his shot went in-and-out for much of the week. (SP)

Angel Nunez, Gonzaga’s difference-maker?

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Przemek Karnowski finished with 15 points, nine boards and seven blocks to lead four players in double figures as No. 24 Gonzaga knocked off St. Mary’s 73-51 on Thursday night in the Kennel.

Yes, the Zags won by 22 points.

Yes, they did it without Gary Bell Jr. in the lineup and with Sam Dower doing, quite literally, nothing in the seven minutes that he played.

And no, the game was not as close as the final score would indicate. The Zags were up by 30 at one point, and Gonzaga didn’t allow St. Mary’s to hit a three or notch their first assist until the game was in garbage time.

In a word, this was a beatdown, one that isn’t all that surprising once you consider just how poorly the Gaels played out in Hawaii.

But that’s not what’s intriguing to me.

Louisville transfer Angel Nunez is. He went for 13 points and eight boards in the win and is now averaging 9.0 points and 5.3 boards in just 13.3 minutes in the three games for the Zags. The 6-foot-8, 200 pound forward brings a different dimension to the Gonzaga front court. He’s athletic, he can defend, he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He may not be Elias Harris, but there aren’t many players in the WCC that can match up with Nunez.

And given the issues that Mark Few has on his front line, continued production from Nunez could make all the difference in the world for Gonzaga.

Sunday’s Pregame Shootaround: Connecticut goes on the road for first time vs. Washington

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 10 Connecticut at Washington (3:30 p.m., ESPNU) — all times eastern

The Huskies are coming off their first loss of the season as they lost to Stanford at home this past Wednesday, 53-51. Now, in their first true road game of the season, Connecticut will face another Pac-12 team in Washington. Against Stanford, the Huskies’ ability to win close games in the final minute came to an end; they were 4-0 in games decided by one possession. Washington has really struggled this season, limping out to a 6-4 start with their best win against Montana, but a cross-country trip for UConn and playing against an ostensibly hungry team makes this a tough game.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: California at Creighton (7:00 p.m., FOX Sports 1)

If you’re looking for something to watch in between the 4:00 p.m. NFL games and Sunday night football, check this one out. While both California and Creighton have one non-conference game remaining on their respective slates following this one (California vs. Furman, Creighton vs. Chicago State), the game today is the final opportunity to pick up a quality non-conference win. The Blue Jay offense is clicking again, following a season-low 53 point output against George Washington where Doug McDermott was held to just seven points. Meanwhile, Cal has rebounded after losing at UC Santa Barbara by winning their following two games against Nevada and Fresno State.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Brown at Northwestern (2:00 p.m.)

Chris Collins and Northwestern need to approach today’s game against Brown very seriously. If not, the Bears are good enough to upset them in Evanston, IL. Not a whole lot was expected of Northwestern in Collins’ first season at the helm, but the Wildcats have struggled perhaps more than some expected. Their best win has come against Western Michigan, and currently stand at 6-5 on the year. Brown senior guard Sean McGonagill shoots the ball as well as anyone in the country (32-76 3PT), and if JerShonn Cobb is unable to play due to an ankle injury that will make slowing McGonagill that much more difficult.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Boise State at Hawaii (1:00 a.m., ESPNU)

After beginning the season 8-0, Boise State has lost two straight against Kentucky and St. Mary’s. The Broncos look to rebound against Hawaii, but winning against the Warriors in Hawaii is never an easy task. This is the final game of Boise State’s non-conference schedule before Mountain West play begins. While they have a nice win against Utah, winning on the road at Hawaii would boost their resume, even if only marginally.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Connecticut probably isn’t as good as their No. 10 ranking suggests, and Shabazz Napier wasn’t going to continually hit game-winning shots in the final minute to propel the Huskies to close victories — to that end, UConn’s flaws were exposed by Stanford. UConn scored a mere 13 points in the second half against the Cardinal. Heading out west to play Washington, I will go as far to say that UConn needs to win this game.

2) A big opportunity at the end of the non-conference for Purdue and West Virginia today. Each team doesn’t figure to seriously factor into their respective conference races — Purdue in the Big Ten and West Virginia in the Big 12 — as neither has performed well to date. The team who walks away from today’s game with a win today, however, will at least have some good feelings and something to build upon moving into 2014.

3) I think Northwestern should be on upset alert more than Mississippi, but don’t be surprised if Mercer gives the Rebels everything they can handle. Mercer is a solid team. They nearly beat Texas in their season-opener, and own solid overtime victories against Seton Hall and Denver. At this point, Mercer has to be considered the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun. If Mississippi leaves this game victorious, it may be against a Top 100 RPI team come March — critical, considering that Mississippi may find themselves sitting on the bubble.

4) Akron has a good opportunity to pick up a victory over a BCS team for the MAC as they travel to Hawaii to face Oregon State. The Zips have won four straight with three of the wins coming against solid teams in Cleveland State, Oral Roberts, and Detroit. While Oregon State is 6-2, don’t let that record fool you. Sure, the Beavers have a road win against Maryland, but they have played one of the weakest schedules in the country. On a neutral court, Akron has a good shot at winning this game.

5) There are ten undefeated teams remaining, and three are in action today: Iowa State, St. Mary’s, and Wichita State. The team most in danger of losing today is Iowa State as they play George Mason in Hawaii.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

No 11 Wichita State vs. North Carolina Central, 8:00 p.m.

No. 12 Baylor vs. Southern University, 5:00 p.m.

No. 17 Iowa State vs. George Mason, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

No. 25 Iowa vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff , 2:00 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

Indiana vs. Kennesaw State, 12:00 p.m., Big Ten Network

Richmond vs. Ohio, 1:00 p.m.

Auburn vs. Boston College, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3

Dayton vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.

Central Florida vs. Valparaiso, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3

Miami (FL) vs. La Salle, 3:00 p.m., ESPN3

Illinois State vs. DePaul, 4:35 p.m., ESPN3

UCLA vs. Weber State, 7:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network

South Florida vs. Mississippi State, 8:00 p.m.

St. Mary’s vs. South Carolina, 11:00 p.m., ESPNU