Domantas Sabonis

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

No. 11 Gonzaga rolls past No. 6 Seton Hall

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There were two questions heading into Midwest No. 6 Seton Hall’s matchup with No. 11 Gonzaga. How would the Bulldogs deal with Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player Isaiah Whitehead? And how would the Pirates defend Gonzaga’s talented front court tandem of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer? In the end it was Mark Few’s team that had the answers, as they beat the Pirates 68-52 behind a dominant performance from Sabonis.

The sophomore from Lithuania led the way with 21 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, and despite shooting 9-for-20 from the field he (and his teammates) set the tone from a physicality standpoint. Seton Hall began the game defending him straight up and not sending over help, but the change to doubling the post didn’t do much to deter Sabonis either. Wiltjer chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds, and while Gonzaga had its moments on the offense it was their defense and rebounding that decided the outcome.

As a team Seton Hall shot 32.3 percent from the field and 4-for-21 from three, with their talented point guard struggling mightily. Whitehead shot 4-for-24 from the field, which is incredibly tough to overcome despite the fact that he dished out eight assists. The sophomore played tired for most of the game in Denver, and while the altitude can be cited Gonzaga’s defense had a lot more to do with it. The Bulldogs used multiple defenders on Whitehead, making him work for everything, and more often than not he settled for challenged shots or looked to force the issue.

With Derrick Gordon being the lone rotation player out of eligibility, the Pirates will enter next season with the expectations of being a contender in the Big East. But Thursday night Kevin Willard’s group ran into a program that’s now won at least one game in each of their last seven NCAA tournament appearances.

Next up for Gonzaga is No. 3 Utah, which took care of No. 14 Fresno State in its tournament opener. And with the Runnin’ Utes being led by center Jakob Poeltl, the Bulldogs will need another high-level performance from their front court Saturday night while taking better care of the basketball (20 turnover vs. Seton Hall).

West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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In recent years the regular season champion of the West Coast Conference would arrive in Las Vegas feeling secure about its chances of landing an NCAA tournament bid even if they didn’t managed to grab the league’s automatic bid. Things aren’t as comfortable this time around for either Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga, as their non-conference slates either lacked the challenging games (Saint Mary’s) or quality wins (Gonzaga) needed to provide some breathing room. That, along with the presence of BYU and Pepperdine, should make for an intense “long weekend” at the Orleans Arena, where the WCC will hope that this event can produce two NCAA tournament teams.

The Bracket 

wccbracket

When: March 4-8 (no games Sunday, March 6)

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 8, 9:00 p.m. EST

Favorite: Saint Mary’s

The Gaels surprised many by winning a share of the regular season title, as they were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. They’ll be the top seed this week thanks to their season sweep of Gonzaga, and with guards Emmett Naar and WCC Newcomer of the Year Joe Rahon leading the way head coach Randy Bennett has the pieces needed to win the tournament. Forwards Calvin Hermansson and Dane Pineau shouldn’t be overlooked either, as they’re second and third on the team in scoring behind Naar and 6-foot-10 freshman center Evan Fitzner was productive in both wins over Gonzaga (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

And if they lose?: Gonzaga

Mark Few’s Bulldogs are led by one of the best front court tandems in the country in senior Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer’s a face-up four with range well beyond the three-point line, thus providing Sabonis with the room he needs to operate from 15 feet and in. The question mark throughout this season has been the development of their perimeter rotation, but there has been progress. Josh Perkins was named to the WCC’s all-freshman team, and Eric McClellan the conference’s best defender. How that group, which includes Silas Melson and Kyle Dranginis, performs will be key for Gonzaga as they look to win the WCC tournament for the fifth time in the last six years.

Other Contenders:

  • BYU: They’ve got the WCC Player of the Year in versatile guard Kyle Collinsworth, and fellow guards Chase Fischer and Nick Emery can fill it up scoring-wise. And even with their ability to put up points, BYU led the WCC in defensive efficiency in conference games per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.
  • Pepperdine: The Waves can make a claim no other WCC team can make this season: they swept Saint Mary’s. Marty Wilson’s group, led by forward Stacy Davis and guard Jeremy Major, is capable of making a run in Vegas.

WCC Player of the Year: Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

The NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles (11), Collinsworth is the “straw that stirs the drink” for BYU. In WCC games he ranked in the top five in rebounds (third), assists (first) and steals (first), and at 15.6 points per game the senior ranked 13th in the conference in scoring. At 6-foot-6 he’s a tough matchup for opposing teams from a size standpoint, and his ability to find the likes of Chase Fischer and Nick Emery makes BYU a tough team to slow down offensively.

WCC Coach of the Year: Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s exceeded expectations this season, going from a team pegged by many as the one likely to fall out of a top three slot to one that grabbed the top seed in the conference tournament. For that Bennett should be praised, as the backcourt of Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon has meshed well and the front court has accounted for the graduation of Brad Waldow as well.

First-Team All-WCC:

  • Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
  • Stacy Davis, Pepperdine
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
  • Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

CBT Prediction: Saint Mary’s beats Gonzaga in a thriller.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 16 Iowa rolls, BYU wins at No. 25 Gonzaga

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Rider 102, Marist 100 (3OT)

Rider, pegged by some as a contender in the MAAC before the season began, picked up its first conference win of the season and they needed 15 extra minutes to do so. Teddy Okereafor led the way with 38 points and eight assists, with Zedric Saddler adding 21 points off the bench. Khalid Hart paced Marist with 36 points, and teammates Brian Parker added 28 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Hart missed a free throw in the final seconds of the second overtime that would have tied the game at 101, with Okereafor splitting a pair on the other end to provide the final margin.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 16 Iowa 76, No. 4 Michigan State 59: Peter Jok scored 23 points and Jarrod Uthoff added 15 as the Hawkeyes rolled in East Lansing. Fran McCaffery’s team went from up one to leading by 22 at the half, outscoring Michigan State 35-14 over the final 16:07. After beating a Denzel Valentine-less Michigan State in the Big Ten opener for both, Iowa made a definitive statement that they’re a conference title contender.

No. 21 Louisville 59, No. 20 Pittsburgh 41: It wasn’t pretty offensively for either team, but the Cardinals were the better defensive team as they held the Panthers to a season low for points in a game. Pitt shot 28.6 percent from the field and committed 19 turnovers in a game that was a throwback to some old Big East battles. Chinanu Onuaku paced the Cardinals with 18 points, ten rebounds and three blocks.

BYU 69, No. 25 Gonzaga 68: Nate Austin’s block of a Kyle Wiltjer shot with just over a second remaining preserved the comeback victory for BYU, which has now won its last two games at Gonzaga. Wiltjer lead all scorers with 35 to go along with ten rebounds but Domantas Sabonis struggled with foul trouble and scored just five points, and given Gonzaga’s current makeup they can’t afford for the sophomore big man to have an off night. Kyle Collinsworth scored 20 points and Chase Fischer 18 for the Cougars, who are now 4-1 in WCC play.

STARRED

SIU-Edwardsville’s Burak Eslik: If not for Eslik SIUE would have had no shot of taking Morehead State to overtime. Eslik scored 40 points on 12-for-22 shooting from the field (7-for-11 3PT, 9-for-13 FT) and grabbed six rebounds in a 70-67 overtime loss.

Iowa’s Peter Jok: Jok scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field in the Hawkeyes’ win at Michigan State.

Rider’s Teddy Okereafor at the foul line: Okerafor scored 38 points and dished out eight assists in a double overtime win over Marist. He shot 25-for-30 from the foul line.

Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku: 18 points, ten rebounds and three blocks as he outplayed Pittsburgh’s frontline in the 59-41 Louisville victory.

STRUGGLED

UConn’s Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis: As Hamilton goes so go the Huskies, and Thursday night he struggled in a loss at Tulsa. Five points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field (1-for-7 3PT) for the sophomore, with Purvis even worse from the field (1-for-9) in scoring his five points.

Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis: Thanks to foul trouble he struggled, scoring five points on 2-for-6 shooting and grabbing six rebounds in a loss to BYU.

Pittsburgh’s James Robinson: The entire team struggled to be fair. But Robinson shot 0-for-6 from the field and committed three turnovers in the Panthers’ loss at Louisville.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 13 Arizona took control of its game against Washington in the second half, outscoring the Huskies by 29 points in what would eventually become a 99-67 victory. Ryan Anderson went for 21 points and nine rebounds and Kaleb Tarczewski added 16 points, 13 boards and one emphatic dunk.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • FIU scored 52 first-half points in their 88-74 upset of Louisiana Tech in Miami. FIU shot 56.9 percent from the field, with Donte McGill scoring 29 points to lead the way.
  • LIU-Brooklyn picked up a one-point win at Wagner, beating the Seahawks 71-70. Aakim Saintil scored 27 points for the Blackbirds, who held on after Wagner missed the put-back of a Corey Henson missed free throw in the final seconds.
  • In a showdown of two Conference USA contenders, UAB won 72-71 at Old Dominion in overtime. William Lee scored 28 for the Blazers, who have now won 11 straight and ended ODU’s 32-game home winning streak.
  • Tulsa pulled away down the stretch in their 60-51 win over UConn. James Woodard scored 20 points and Shaquille Harrison 13 for the Golden Hurricane.
  • Winthrop handed High Point its first Big South loss of the season in impressive fashion, winning 86-66 at home. John Brown went for 25 and ten for the Panthers, but Winthrop managed to keep his teammates in check defensively.
  • Chattanooga moved to 15-3 on the season with a home win over Western Carolina. Justin Tuoyo led five Mocs in double figures with 20 points in the 77-58 victory.
  • Radford beat UNC Asheville 91-86 in overtime, with Cameron Jones and Rashun Davis combining to score 31 points for the Highlanders.
  • William & Mary held College of Charleston to 18 first-half points, hanging on to that halftime margin to win 63-61 in Charleston.
  • Valparaiso remained undefeated in Horizon League play with a 68-56 win over Milwaukee. Vashil Fernandez scored 14 points for the Crusaders, who dominated the boards and outscored the Panthers 20-0 in second chance points.
  • Arizona State picked up its first conference win of the season, beating Washington State 84-73. Three Sun Devils scored at least 15 points, with Tra Holder’s 20 leading the way.
  • In a matchup of two of the Summit League’s better teams, South Dakota State beat IPFW 92-76. George Marshall scored 28 for the Jackrabbits, who are now 14-4 on the season.
  • Little Rock (15-1) and UT-Arlington (13-2) both took care of business, as the Trojans blew out Appalachian State at home and UTA won by 27 at Troy.
  • The same can be said of Big Sky heavyweights Montana and Weber State, as both won on the road Thursday night. Montana won by seven at Northern Colorado, while the Wildcats were led to a 15-point win at Portland State by Joel Bolomboy (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Jeremy Senglin (21 points).
  • Oregon went to Salt Lake City and beat Utah 77-59, dropping the Runnin’ Utes to 1-3 in the Pac-12. Dillon Brooks scored 21 points and Casey Benson added 15 for the Ducks, who shot 54.9 percent from the field.
  • Hawai’i moved to 3-0 in Big West play with an 80-71 win at UC Riverside. Quincy Smith scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds for the Rainbow Warriors.
  • UC Irvine erased an eight-point halftime deficit to win 58-54 at Long Beach State. Jaron Martin scored 11 second-half points to help spark the rally alongside fellow guards Luke Nelson and Alex Young.
  • Rosco Allen tallied 22 points and ten rebounds as Stanford beat California, 77-71. The difference was the foul line, as Cal shot 9-for-17 compared to Stanford’s 30-for-38.
  • With Gonzaga’s loss Saint Mary’s is in sole possession of first in the WCC, as they moved to 6-1 with a 78-62 win over Pacific. Jock Landale led the Gaels with 24 points and five rebounds, with Emmett Naar adding 21, five boards and six assists.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Wes Washpun leads UNI, and Ohio State’s big game

(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa

For the second time this season, the Panthers have landed a win over a top five team. In November, they beat then-No. 1 North Carolina. On Saturday, they knocked off No. 5 Iowa State. No one in all of college basketball has two wins that are as good as those two wins, and given that the Panthers don’t have any horrid losses on their résumé, this win more or less locks up an at-large bid as long as UNI does the things they’re supposed to do in Missouri Valley play.

The star of the show this weekend was Washpun, who finished with 28 points, 11 assists and seven boards. The scouting report on Iowa State at this point is pretty easy to figure out: they are not great defensively and struggle to contain penetration. Washpun exposed them, and while he was helped by the fact that UNI went 13-for-22 from beyond the arc, it doesn’t change how dominant he was on Saturday.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: It’s been two games since North Carolina lost Kennedy Meeks to a knee injury and Johnson is doing his best to make sure that the Tar Heels don’t miss him. In wins over Tulane and No. 22 UCLA, Johnson averaged 26.0 points and 9.5 boards while shooting 22-for-29 from the floor.
  • Kahlil Felder, Oakland: Felder had 38 points, nine assists and six boards as the Grizzlies knocked off Washington in Seattle on Saturday. He’s now averaging 25.9 points and 8.9 assists on the season.
  • Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: The good news: Sabonis played his best game as a collegian in a win over Tennessee on Saturday, finishing with 36 points and 16 boards. The bad news: The Zags needed every one of those points and rebounds in a close win over Tennessee.
  • Cat Barber, N.C. State: The 33 points, seven boards and four assists that Barber had in a win over Missouri on Saturday was his second-best game of the week. He also had 26 points, six boards, five assists and the game-winning, buzzer-beating jumper to beat High Point.
  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas: The 12 points and seven assists that Taylor had in a win over Appalachian State was nice and all, but it was the 26-point, six-assist homecoming performance in which he hid a game-winning floater to beat Stanford in Palo Alto that got Taylor on this list.
  • BENCH: London Perrantes (Virginia), Roosevelt Jones (Butler), Troy Williams (Indiana), Ryan Anderson (Arizona), Stefan Moody (Ole Miss)
Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State was dead in the water this season. They had already lost at home to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. They lost in overtime against Memphis. They fell at UConn by 20 points in a game that wasn’t even that competitive. They’re young, they lack leadership at the point guard spot, they don’t have a go-to scorer or a low-post presence, they don’t defend. Through the season’s first 10 games, Ohio State was 5-5 and, more than anything, proving to the world just how much better D’Angelo Russell made the players around him.

And then on Saturday, at the Barclays Center, Ohio State came out and whipped up on No. 4 Kentucky. They led by 16 points in the second half. Kentucky made a run when Jamal Murray caught fire, but the Buckeyes were able to hold them off, in the process landing the kind of marquee win that can be the difference between the NIT and the right side of the bubble.

Will Thad Matta’s crew be able to get a bid?

It’s way too early to make any kind of declarations like that, but the bottom line is that a young, inexperienced team get themselves a shot of confidence that they desperately needed.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Utah: Utah made a statement on Saturday in New York, as they knocked off No. 7 Duke despite the fact that they spent much of the second half playing without Jakob Poeltl, who was in foul trouble all game long. The Utes have been a bit inconsistent this season — that loss at Wichita State doesn’t look great today — but if this wins shows us anything, it’s that this group is capable of being pretty good.
  • Virginia: The ‘Hoos knocked off No. 12 Villanova in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon in yet another sterling, late-game performance from London Perrantes. This team is not as good defensively as they have been in recent years, but are they actually the most dangerous offensive in college basketball? They may be.
  • Butler: Purdue entered the weekend undefeated, looking like the nation’s best defensive team and a real Big Ten contender, and the Bulldogs beat them in impressive fashion at the Crossroads Classic despite getting an 0-for-12 shooting performance from leading scorer Kellen Dunham.
  • Monmouth: The latest Monmouth victims? Georgetown and Rutgers, who joined UCLA, USC and Notre Dame.
  • Texas A&M: The Aggies beat the brakes off of No. 16 Baylor on Saturday. The final score was 80-61, but at one point, Billy Kennedy’s club was up 62-35. It was a mismatch. A&M might actually be the best team in the SEC as of today. Think about that.
  • Indiana: The most important ten minutes of Indiana’s season came on Saturday as the Hoosiers erased a 16-point deficit against Notre Dame. Indiana beat the Irish with their defense, which is not something that has been said before this season.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 19 Louisville at No. 4 Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 10 Xavier at Wake Forest, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 5 Iowa State at No. 23 Cincinnati, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • Vanderbilt at No. 9 Purdue, Tue. 8:00 p.m.
  • Cal at No. 8 Virginia, Tue. 9:00 p.m.

After Gonzaga win, are we ready to buy UCLA yet?

AP Photo/Young Kwak
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Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford combined for 33 points and six assists, committing just a pair of turnovers on the night, as UCLA landed their second big win of the season, going into Spokane and knocking off No. 20 Gonzaga at The Kennel, 71-66.

And while it was the back court that made the big plays for Steve Alford’s team, the star of the second half was Tony Parker. The 6-foot-9 senior center was dominant during a stretch where the Bruins extended their lead to as much as eight points. He finished with 16 points and made his first eight shots from the field, overpowering a Gonzaga front line that is beat up.

Prezemek Karnowski did not play again. The 7-foot-1 center — by far Gonzaga’s best low post defensive presence — has been dealing with back spasms for the last week. He didn’t play in the loss to Arizona and he missed the near-loss to Montana. Domantas Sabonis played well — 18 points and eight boards — but he’s just not the same presence as Karnowski is.

Kyle Wiltjer began the game on fire, hitting threes on three straight possessions, before Steve Alford made a switch. Initially, Parker was guarding Wiltjer, but Alford put Jonah Bolden in the game. Bolden is 6-foot-10 and long but he’s far more athletic and mobile than Parker is. That switch made a difference; Wiltjer finished with 20 points, but shot just 4-for-12 from the floor the rest of the way. Bolden finished with 10 points and 11 boards in 30 minutes, by far his best game in a Bruin uniform.

So what do we make of UCLA?

I’m seriously asking you.

Because I don’t really know.

They beat Kentucky … when Kentucky was missing their best big man and their starting point guard was banged up. They won at Gonzaga — who isn’t really the typical Gonzaga this season — while they were missing their best big man. They’ve lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got worked over by Kansas.

There is a ton of talent on that roster in a year where the Pac-12 is wide open, but I can’t convince myself to fully trust this team just yet.

Wiltjer, Sabonis help No. 20 Gonzaga edge Montana 61-58

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Coming off a rare loss at home, No. 20 Gonzaga barely avoided another defeat at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“We’re very lucky to get out of this with a win,” coach Mark Few said after the Bulldogs held off Montana 61-58 Tuesday night.

Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis each scored 16 points for Gonzaga, which recently lost at home to then-No. 19 Arizona 68-63.

Wiltjer made two free throws with 7.5 seconds left for the final points of the game. A 3-point attempt by Montana’s Brandon Gfeller bounced off the front rim as time expired.

“I think every one is going in as soon as it leaves my hand,” Gfeller said, “but that isn’t the way it worked out tonight.”

Sabonis had 10 rebounds and Wiltjer nine for the Bulldogs (6-2).

Josh Perkins scored 13 points for Gonzaga, including a free throw and a jumper in the final minute to erase Montana’s 58-56 lead.

Eric McClellan had 11 for Gonzaga.

Martin Breunig led Montana (3-4) with 20 points, 18 coming after halftime. Walter Wright added 14.

“I was just trying to be more aggressive (in the second half) . in the first half, we were not aggressive enough,” Breunig said.

Few said Breunig “is one of the best low-post players we’ll play this season.”

Both teams struggled to score consistently. Gonzaga shot 40 percent from the field and Montana hit just 36.1 percent. Turnovers also were a problem for both teams at times.

“It was the best defense we’ve played since I’ve been at Montana,” Grizzlies coach Travis DeCuire said.

Gonzaga trailed 11-9 before holding Montana without a point for six minutes during an 8-0 run.

The Bulldogs led 29-23 at the break and scored the opening basket of the second half. Montana took the lead with a 12-0 run, when Gonzaga missed seven shots and had four turnovers.

The Grizzlies then missed their next seven shots, and Gonzaga’s 8-0 run pushed the Bulldogs ahead 39-35.

Gfeller, who scored nine points, tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1:07 to go. Jack Lopez was fouled at the same time and sank two free throws to give Montana a 58-56 lead. In the final minute, Perkins sank one of two free throws before hitting a jumper prior to Wiltjer’s final free throws.

“To get rewarded with a `W’ when we feel we didn’t play very good is a good thing,” Few said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Montana. I think they’re going to have a great season.”

TIP-INS

Montana: The Grizzlies and Bulldogs were Big Sky Conference rivals from 1963-64 through 1978-79, when Gonzaga left for the West Coast Conference. The teams had not met since Nov. 11, 2007. … Montana has lost the past 10 meetings.

Gonzaga: Senior center Przemek Karnowski was sidelined for the third consecutive game with back problems. Few labels Karnowski “our best rim protector (on defense).”

GFELLER OVERLOOKED?

Gfeller grew up 60 miles south of Spokane in the small town of Colfax, Washington. The junior guard said Gonzaga showed no interest in him beyond “maybe a couple emails.”

RARE EMPTY SEATS

The Bulldogs announced the usual sellout crowd of 6,000, but perhaps 100 seats in Gonzaga’s notoriously rowdy student section were empty. Some students may have been focusing on next week’s final exams.

UP NEXT

Montana visits Washington on Saturday.

Gonzaga hosts UCLA on Saturday.