Dane Pineau: 7-7; Evan Fitzner: 7-8; Jock Landale: 5-8; Calvin Hermanson: 4-6; Stefan Gonzalez: 2-3; Kyle Clark: 1-1.
That is not a fantasy basketball box score, it is the actual statistical breakdown of key Gael shooting in the team’s 81-59 defeat of Santa Clara Wednesday night in Broncoland. Overall, the Gaels made 31-49 shots for a tidy 63.3%, which will do nothing to disturb their no. 1 national offensive rating.
Ironically, Emmett Naar, the nation’s leader in three-point accuracy, missed five of six three-point attempts, dropping from 70% to 63% for the season. Naar compensated with eight assists, and back court mate Joe Rahon added seven, helping the Gaels amass 22 assists on 31 made baskets. At over 2:1, the Gaels’ assist-to-turnover record is also tops in the nation.
Number one in field goal accuracy and assist-to-turnover ratio, plus boasting the nation’s top three-point shooter, it is no wonder the Gaels score high on offensive efficiency: the amount of scoring per possession. There is a chart for that also, and the team sitting at no. 1 with a 1.269 points-per-possession mark is the little school in Moraga. Number two is Louisville, number three is Indiana, number five is Michigan — you get the idea. These Gaels are efficient.
Apparently unimpressed with all this efficiency, Kerry Keating’s team didn’t fall down in awe. Santa Clara trailed by only four at the half, 35-31, and by the same margin, 44-40, with 14:50 to go. At that point, Naar perhaps became annoyed with the Broncos’ persistence and led an 8-0 run that settled the matter: he first executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Pineau, stole the ball from Santa Clara ace Jared Brownridge, made his only three of the night off the ensuing transition, capitalized on a Pineau block to drop a dime on Rahon for another three, then gave a sigh of relief as the score went to 52-40. The Broncos never got closer than nine points from that point on.
Santa Clara has had a roller-coaster season already, and may continue to experience ups and downs as it deals with injuries to key players. Promising sophomore Evan Wardlow is currently out hurt and forward Jarvis Pugh just returned against the Gaels. Burly forward Matt Hubbard, whom the Broncos need to back up the tenacious Nate Kratch on the front line, went down just five minutes into the Gaels’ game when he banged his tender right ankle (hurt previously) on a teammate’s foot during a pile-up in the paint.
But there is hope in Pruneland. Freshman KJ Feagin, replacing jitterbug scoring threat Brandon Clark alongside the reliable Brownridge, looks to be a solid addition, maybe better suited to the Broncos’ offense than Clark. Clark was an electric scorer, but dribbled too much and kept the ball out of Brownridge’s hands. Feagin seems content to serve as a complement to Brownridge, and that will prove more valuable in the long run.
Feagin is not just a passer, as he matched Brownridge’s 15 points — held down by a typical bulldog defensive effort by the Gaels’ Rahon — with 13 of his own. Add 10 points on 4-6 shooting by another freshman, Matt Hauser, and Keating has some punch in his back court. Waiting to acclimate himself is USC transfer Brendyn Taylor, who will be another Bronco to contend with.
Around the WCC
There were some surprises in the first week of WCC competition, none bigger than Portland. The Pilots, coming off a humdrum pre-conference performance, held court against both Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount to join Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga atop the standings at 2-0.
To say that Pepperdine under-performed on the road in the opening week is putting it mildly. Coming off a five-game winning streak that included a 79-59 pasting of the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana, the Waves crashed on the shores of Spokane and Portland, losing to Gonzaga 99-73 and to Portland 87-79. Pepperdine hopes to get back in the WCC hunt through a three-game home stand against Loyola, Pacific and Saint Mary’s.
BYU, a contender for a top-four finish in the WCC, played in a tournament in Hawaii instead of the WCC’s opening week, so it and its travel partner San Diego must wait for their conference debuts next week. BYU’s Chase Fischer enjoyed his own luau in the Cougar’s second tournament game, racking up 41 points to lead his team to a 96-66 win over New Mexico. That followed a humbling 85-82 OT loss to a rebuilding Harvard squad (4-6), so BYU continues to give off mixed signals heading into conference play.
The Gaels will be the first to test BYU in WCC play as they host the Cougars on New Year’s Eve. Saint Mary’s will warm up for BYU — and perhaps get a chance to pad already-impressive statistics — by hosting lowly Utah Valley on Monday, Dec. 28. How lowly is Utah Valley?
They’re 5-8, with an 85-54 loss to BYU, an 81-55 loss to Utah State and, most concerning to them, a 68-54 loss to Southern Utah, whom the Gaels slaughtered by 56 points. Undaunted, the Wolverines from Orem, UT ventured into Louisville’s back yard last night to endure a 102-77 thrashing. They will be game but perhaps shell-shocked when they arrive in Moraga.