by Michael Vernetti
Okay, so it’s not my name. Credit rabid Gael fan Michael Johnson from southern California, the guy who was leading the loud Saint Mary’s cheering section at Maples Pavilion Wednesday night.
But it fits, doesn’t it?
Calvin Hermanson upped the ante on his play with a scorching 7-9 three-point explosion against the Cardinal, combined with a snuff job on Stanford’s second leading scorer, Dorian Pickens. The scorecard at the end of the Gaels’ 66-51 win was: Hermanson 25 points, Pickens 4.
So flummoxed was Pickens by Hermanson’s defense that he took only four shots the entire game, making one and sinking two free throws. This from a guy who was averaging 15.4 PPG coming into the Saint Mary’s game, and was identified by Stanford’s previous foe, Seton Hall, as the key to the Cardinal offense. Some key, some offense.
So, it’s fine with me if fans start calling Hermanson the Hermanator. He’s got the look, with the ugly mouthpiece, the goggles and the headband that draws attention to the goggles. If he were playing for some team in the east that ESPN and other eastern-dominated media pay attention to he’d probably have his own national following by now.
The game was a strange affair because of the Gaels’ slow start that allowed Stanford to take a 30-26 lead at halftime. Stanford, rejuvenated under new leadership by Jerod Haase, aggressively double-teamed the Gaels’ Jock Landale, slowing the play that had led Landale to average more than 20 PPG. The Cardinal fed their own low-post stud, Reid Travis, and the combination of strong defense on Landale and production from Travis fueled the four-point halftime lead.
A sub-plot to the Gaels’ first-half struggle was the inability of redshirt sophomore Evan Fitzner to capitalize on the opportunities Stanford’s defense gave him. The best way to give Landale room to operate down low was for someone to knock down threes, and Fitzner had Randy Bennett’s blessing to be that guy.
He wasn’t up to the task Wednesday night, clanking four straight wide-open three-point attempts. Just to prove it wasn’t a first-half jinx, Fitzner opened the second half by missing on another three-point attempt. Have a seat, Evan, and consider your 0-5 night with zero rebounds in eight minutes of play.
But the Gaels spread the three-point opportunities in the second half, with Naar opening the lid on the basket in the first 30 seconds, followed by Hermanson a few seconds later. Naar then fed Landale underneath for a lay-up that erased Stanford’s lead and keyed a 12-0 run that brought the Gaels from four down to eight up (38-30) at the 16:16 mark. Stanford had not made a single basket at that point.
In addition to Hermanson’s sharp-shooting, another factor in the Gaels’ comeback was the play of Dane Pineau, the erstwhile all-WCC post man who has been fighting back pains this season. Bennett inserted Pineau initially in relief of Landale, then alongside him to thwart the Cardinal’s low-post production that was a factor early in the game. It was a tremendous success, as Pineau is quicker and more active than Landale, and he immediately started harassing Travis and other Stanford bigs.
Whether it was Pineau’s example or just all-around team play, the Gaels stifled Stanford’s offense in the second half, holding the Cardinal to a measly 21 points on 27.6% shooting. For the game, Stanford shot just 38.2%, well under the Gaels’ goal of holding opponents to a 40% or less success rate in field goal percentage.
At that point in the action, 16 minutes left and the Gaels on top by four points, Hermanson took over. He sank back-to-back threes after Stanford closed to within four points at 38-34, than sank another as the Cardinal creeped within three points at 48-45. The Gaels’ offense was rejuvenated, with Naar and Rahon alternating between assisting Landale and Pineau on lay-ups. Kyle Clark, who was having a so-so night, hit his only three-pointer to push the lead to 54-45 at the 5:45 mark, then Hermanson followed with a driving lay-up, and then, just for good measure, with his seventh three-pointer with 4:31 left to give the Gaels an 11-point lead (59-48).
Naar punctuated the efficiency of the Gaels’ back court — he had eight assists and Rahon six — with the night’s prettiest pass to Pineau, who converted at the 2:28 mark to push the lead to 64-48. Landale finished the night was a short jumper to push the margin to 15, a solid follow-up to last year’s 17-point shellacking of Stanford in Moraga.
As much as the Gaels relish the opportunity of engaging Stanford and Cal on a regular basis, the two wins over Stanford and last season’s last-second loss to Cal will not encourage timid coaches and athletic directors to pencil in Saint Mary’s on their scheduling agendas. As for either school coming to Moraga for a re-match, don’t hold your breath.
The new face of the Gaels’ offense, Calvin Hermanson — shown in a game last year against Cal Poly — dominated Stanford with 25 points on 9-11 shooting. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.