I’m envisioning Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson watching a replay of Thursday night’s Saint Mary’s-Loyola Marymount game and experiencing a light bulb moment: the Gaels look vulnerable defensivly on their front line. As the Lions’ Adom Jacko went through Gael defenders Jock Landale and Dane Pineau for nine out of 11 buckets, Wilson might have added another thought: I’ve got two Jacko-like players on my team, and they might be able to do some serious damage.
Whether Wilson actually spent time before a W.tv rerun of the Gaels-Lions game or was inspired by scouting or coaching genius, he had a solid game plan for Saturday’s showdown between his Waves and Randy Bennett’s Gaels. Reduced to its simplest terms, it called for unleashing a steady diet of Stacy Davis and Jett Raines on Landale, Pineau, Evan Fitzner and Kyle Clark.
None of those front line Gael defenders were particularly effective in slowing down Davis and Raines, as they combined for 13 of 24 buckets and a stunning 41 points. Landale and Pineau, who had outscored every post tandem they faced before Saturday, produced 32 points of their own. Not too shabby, but not nearly good enough when you can’t stop the other guys.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Davis-Raines outburst was how predictable it was. These two have been around Malibu for four years now, making this the seventh time the Gaels have faced them. Davis has been brilliant ever since he stepped foot on the Pepperdine campus, and will probably end his career as the Waves’ all-time leading scorer.
Raines has been less productive than Davis, but hardly a lightweight. Moreover, he has specialized in the role he played Saturday, as a quicker, more elusive option than Davis, who would rather pound it inside despite his undersized 6-6 or so frame.
You would have thought the Gaels had never heard of either of them, much less played against them. Thinking of the relative inexperience of the Gael foursome — a junior, a sophomore and two freshmen — that’s not far from the truth. The veteran-rookie match-up was most pronounced when Fitzner was isolated on Raines — Raines schooled Fitzner mercilessly, leading to an early bench appointment for the Gael forward and a lamentable line of zero points, two rebounds and four fouls in nine minutes of play. Ouch!
The front line was not alone in shouldering blame for the Waves’ upset win. Remember the fearsome Gael back court of Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon? Watching those two listlessly go up and down the court I would have entertained a finding of flu, mononucleosis or bubonic plague as a reason for their lackluster play.
They combined for 15 points on 5-15 shooting, including an anemic 2-6 on three-pointers. Naar, the former national NCAA leader in three-point accuracy, went one-for-one from distance, but took only six shots in all. That’s not nearly enough, and given Naar’s similar disappearance against Cal — the Gaels’ other loss this season — raises a red flag in the leadership department. Leaders lead, they don’t shirk when the going gets tough. As for Rahon, he looked like the game plan didn’t interest him — it certainly didn’t include him — and seemed to be playing out the clock.
Contrast the Naar-Rahon output with that of Calvin Hermanson, who almost donned a hero’s mantle despite his team’s overall poor play. Hermanson sank a three-pointer with about 12 seconds left to pull the Gaels within one, then got a chance to send the game into overtime a few seconds later after the Waves sank two free throws.
Despite everyone on the Pepperdine roster thinking that Hermanson was the likely shooter, the Gaels executed nicely and got him the ball with enough time to shoot. He calmly ball-faked his defender to get free, then measured the tying shot. It rimmed out, but it was a good effort.
The point is, Hermanson attempted 11 three-pointers on Saturday. He made only four, which isn’t a spectacular result (36%), but he was willing to make the effort. Naar’s ineffectiveness cried out for Bennett to bench him, particularly with such a dynamic shooter as Stefan Gonzalez sitting next to him. But Bennett is ferociously loyal to his starting guard tandem and is loathe to yank either of them. Perhaps more playing time for Gonzalez in relief of Naar instead of Hermanson — who is getting less and less easy to replace — will be one result to come from Saturday’s disappointment.
None of the ills on display Saturday are irreversible, and one can envision a few strenuous practices in the run-up to a Thursday encounter with Pacific. It will likely be a healthy diet of Basketball Fundamentals — defending without fouling (Raines and Davis made 14 out of 15 free throws), blocking out, rebounding, etc.
As for Naar, it is difficult to envision a return to the late-season funk that engulfed him last year. He is so much improved this year, his attitude has been so positive, fans can probably call the Pepperdine effort a one-time stumble. A loud, friendly home crowd will replace the eerily quiet witnesses at LMU and Pepperdine, and the offense will no doubt return to its multifaceted glory.
Pineau and Landale should not be marked by their difficulties, either. Both played like warriors against Pepperdine, and Landale suffered a half-season’s worth of rim-outs. Neither of them lacks resolve or a desire to improve, and it should be fun to watch them against a weak Pacific squad.
Most importantly, the Gaels’ lofty hopes for a memorable season are still intact despite the Malibu malaise. Saint Mary’s will have a week’s preparation following the Pacific game to get ready for Gonzaga, and that is when decisions will be made about redemption, post-season chances and WCC supremacy.