Ole, no way

by Michael Vernetti

Joe Rahon played 26 minutes — that’s all anyone needs to know about the Gaels’ 71-27 victory over San Diego Saturday afternoon.

There was nothing of consequence revealed during the Toreros’ two hours of agony, but the game did settle a question that has haunted Gael fans since last season — what would it take to get Rahon out of a game. Before Saturday, the choices were:

  1. Natural disaster (earthquake, flood, etc.)
  2. Injury
  3. A court order

Turns out, it is a 40-point rout. So, with the Gaels leading 52-13 with 11:25 left in the second half, Jordan Ford subbed in for Rahon for the rest of the game. Since Stefan Gonzalez had replaced Emmett Naar a few minutes earlier, Gael fans tuning in late would have wondered what happened to the back court that has embodied Saint Mary’s basketball since the opening game of the 2015-16 season.

They were enjoying themselves on the bench, and were soon joined by the last remaining front line player, Dane Pineau, who exited upon picking up his fourth personal foul with 7:30 left. The lineup the rest of the way was Gonzalez and Ford at guard, Tanner Krebs at small forward, Kyle Clark at power forward and Jordan Hunter at center.

They played pretty well, outscoring San Diego’s starters 15-12 down the stretch. Gonzalez, who has seen reduced minutes since Krebs took over as back-up to Calvin Hermanson, was particularly effective, making a nice driving lay-up with his left hand and one of his patented three-pointers.

Clark, who has also been the victim of a changing lineup — with Pineau subbing for Evan Fitzner most of the time — gained some confidence by nailing a corner three-pointer and going 4-4 at the free throw line. Ford also made a three-pointer, and Hunter scored on a power move in the paint.

Only Krebs failed to find some solace in the game, as he missed another three three-point attempts to go with his 0-5 night against Pacific on Thursday. Going 0-8 on a signature shot would worry most players, but Krebs has shown he can bounce back from a shooting slump and regain his effectiveness.

About the starters

The Gael starters played well enough to roll up a 32-9 halftime lead — the second time in seven games they have held an opponent to nine first-half points — and showed requisite resolve not to slack off after the break. With Jock Landale scoring on three straight possessions between a driving lay-up by Hermanson and a three-pointer by Naar, the Gaels increased their margin to 43-9 within the first six minutes.

Landale finished with 14 points in 22 minutes, and Hermanson scored the same amount in 26. No other Gael registered double-digits, but overpowering offense is hardly necessary when your opponent goes 9-46 (19.6%) for the game. San Diego was terrible throughout, and Coach Lamont Smith has some work to do to salvage a season that looked promising as recently as Jan. 14 with an 88-75 home win over BYU.

Demonstrating refreshing candor, Torero leading scorer Brett Bailey blamed his team’s performance on shoddy preparation.

“It’s a product of our preparation this week,” Bailey told the San Diego Tribune. “We had a bad week, a terrible week of practice…We didn’t come prepared today and got what we deserved.”

Bailey certainly shouldered a great deal of the blame himself, as he got several open looks at the beginning of the game but could not sink anything. He didn’t score until stuffing in a  bucket with 1:30 left in the first half. For the game, Bailey wen 1-9. Fellow scoring leader Olin Carter III was just as bad, going zero for the first half and salvaging some pride with three second-half three-pointers that had little effect on the game’s outcome.

The path forward

The biggest thing about the San Diego game from the Gaels standpoint was it moves them closer to the Feb. 11 showdown against Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s has only to surmount one more obstacle — Portland on Feb. 9 — before squaring off with the Zags for, well, everything.

ESPN has anointed the contest with its Gameday brand, guaranteeing day-long coverage and a prime time broadcast (5:15 Pacific time) with real, live announcers — Jay “I went to Duke and don’t you forget it” Bilas and the inoffensive Dan Shulman. As smug and condescending as Bilas can be, he is still a major upgrade from the “Wayne’s World” effect of recent ESPNU broadcasts involving remote crews watching from a studio someplace.

Gonzaga has seemed invincible lately, tearing through second-tier WCC teams such as Pepperdine (96-49) and Santa Clara (90-55) before looking human in an 85-75 win over BYU in Provo last Thursday. The Zags face up-and-down Loyola Marymount on Thursday in Los Angeles to keep their undefeated record and number one ranking intact for the Saint Mary’s game.

The Gaels are considered the last remaining obstacle between the Zags and a perfect season heading into conference tournament play and the NCAA tournament, and Saint Mary’s would also like to beat the Zags for its own reasons. Not only would Randy Bennett’s program receive a tremendous public boost by upsetting the Zags, but also the Gaels want to replicate last season’s tie with Gonzaga for the WCC regular-season title. Having already lost to Gonzaga in Spokane, Saturday is their last opportunity to pull even with the Zags at 14-1 (assuming an SMC win over Portland and a Zag win over LMU) and retain hope for wins in four remaining league contests.

A second straight conference title, national TV audience, number one team in the country? Got ’em just where you want ’em, right coach?

Stefan Gonzalez (above in a game from earlier in the season) rekindled excitement about his status as a Gael substitute with a solid second-half performance against San Diego. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.

 

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