One way of discussing the Gaels’ 94-59 mauling of Cal State Bakersfield is to appear cavalier and remark, “Well, it was better than practice.”
The gist of that comment is that 40 minutes racing up and down the McKeon court against a DI opponent is more beneficial than several hours of practice. Indeed, even Gael Coach Randy Bennett seemed to agree when I ran into him in a Lafayette restaurant following the game.
“Well, it was better than practice,” was my ice-breaker as coach and Mrs. Coach enjoyed their dinner. Bennett responded positively, saying “Yeah, the guys were getting antsy” after a week of practice following last Sunday’s win over Stanford.
But there is another way in which it was better than practice. Seldom does a team shoot 61.4% (35-57) in practice; even more seldom does a team shoot 50% (11-22) on threes, out-rebound an opponent 42-26 and record 22 assists on those 35 made baskets. That would be quite a day at practice, and it was quite an evening against Bakersfield.
In moving to 4-0, the Gaels are now scoring 85.3 points per game compared to their opponents’ 59.8. That’s a roughly 25-point-per-game differential. Their three-point accuracy is 43% on an average of 10.8 made threes per game. And that’s after dead-eye Emmett Naar let his teammates down by making only one of three of his three-point attempts against Bakersfield, lowering his percentage on the season to 64% (from 68%).
Naar compensated somewhat by displaying his mastery of the Manu Ginobli look-away layup, sneaking into the paint to torment the ‘Runners several times on the way to a game-high 17 points.
Right behind Naar was redshirt freshman Even Fitzner, who totaled 16 points on 6-9 shooting, including 3-5 three-pointers. Fitzner, alternating between center and power forward, also grabbed nine rebounds, high for the team. Gael fans better get used to having Fitzner lead in those categories, as he could easily become the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. At 12 PPG he ranks second behind Naar (18.5) at present, and his 5.5 RPG trails only Dane Pineau’s 7.5.
As Gael photographer Tod Fierner’s photo indicates, Fitzner is elbowing his way into Saint Mary’s prominence.
Fitzner exhibited his versatility right off the bat against Bakersfield, posting up the ‘Runners’ power forward less than a minute into the game. On the Gaels’ next possession, he sank a three from the top of the key and followed up shortly thereafter with a driving layup in the lane. Three more three-pointers spaced throughout the game rounded off his night.
Gael fans think quickly of Daniel Kickert when watching the 6-10 Fitzner effortlessly sink three-pointer after three-pointer (6-12 so far this season). It’s a good comparison, as the two have similar games, but Fitzner is quicker and is a better ball handler than Kickert, who became the Gaels’ all-time leading scorer until Matthew Dellavedova eclipsed him. Fitzner might be a better rebounder, too — he is quick off the ground and quick with his hands to grab balls before the opposition gets to them.
Rest of the story
You may have noticed, as the scores scroll by beneath ESPN telecasts, that the rest of the WCC isn’t faring so well in the out-of-conference portion of the season. You noticed correctly. Apart from Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU — which are a combined 12-2 — the rest have struggled to 17-29 through games of Nov. 29. Here’s a quick rundown.
Gonzaga (4-1). Wins over cupcakes Northern Arizona and Mt. St. Mary’s, plus an awful Washington Huskies team and Connecticut, and a loss to good-but-not-great Texas A&M. Josh Perkins has a way to go to remove memories of — and longing for — Kevin Pangos.
BYU (4-1). The Cougars have played seven games, but only count five of them. The wins over patsies include Arizona Christian, Alaska and Utah Valley, while the loss was a 66-65 nail-biter against Long Beach State. They face a big test Wednesday against Utah. Watch out for freshman Nick Emery, starting to shake off the dust from his two-year mission.
San Francisco (4-2). The win total may be surprising, but the competition has been underwhelming (University of Illinois-Chicago, UC Riverside, Delaware State). Losses to Fresno State and UC Santa Barbara. Devin Watson emerging as an all-conference-caliber point guard, Tim Derksen playing well alongside him.
Loyola Marymount (4-2). Another surprise, but, again, weak competition. Wins over Cal State Dominguez Hills, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and Southeast Missouri State. Definitely doing well against teams with “State” in their name. Losses to UC Irvine and Colorado State.
Pepperdine (3-4). Not the fast start expected from a team touted as a challenger to SMC and BYU for superiority beneath Gonzaga. Losses to Fresno State, UCLA, Murray State and Drake, wins over Duquesne and Montana (plus, shudder, San Diego Christian). Boast newcomer of the year candidate in freshman forward Kameron Edwards.
Portland (3-4). The Pilots include a win over the Oregon Institute of Technology to boost their total to three (also, Abilene Christian and Alcorn State), but have lost to UC Davis, Colorado, Colorado State and Southern Illinois among known institutions.
Pacific (1-5). Things are going badly when your only win is against Carroll College. Losses to Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and Nevada, although they took the Wolfpack to double overtime.
San Diego (1-5). Lamont Smith’s Toreros finally notched a win last weekend over Drexel, which is down this year, following losses to USC, Western Michigan, Cal State Fullerton, Loyola-Chicago and San Jose State. Smith lost his most-prized Texas recruit before the season began when Ryan Woolridge said adios, and is left with only three other guards from the Lone Star State.
Santa Clara (1-7). Surely the most confounding 1-7 team in America is this Bronco squad of Kerry Keating’s. How can a team that struggled to score 33 points against Denver (L55-33) take Arizona to overtime before losing 75-73 (hint: Arizona is overrated), and then beat the ACC’s Boston College by a convincing 62-45? Does Keating only coach on Tuesdays and Thursdays? How does one team achieve such remarkable inconsistency?
Next time: Taking on the UC system.