by Michael Vernetti
With 17 points in a narrow win over Santa Clara last Thursday, Gael forward Alex Ducas was outstanding.
With 22 points in 25 minutes of playing time against Loyola Marymount Saturday night in Los Angeles, the 6’7″ Aussie was transcendent.
By posting his best back-to-back performances in three years in Moraga, Ducas announced he is ready to take the offensive leadership of this Saint Mary’s team. Ducas sliced and diced LMU in so many ways, so many times, that by the time Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett benched him with nearly 11 minutes left in the second half, the Gaels were up 60-34 and on their way to a suffocating 83-51 win over LMU.
Ducas took control of the game with the Gaels’ first possession, driving to the hoop and finishing over his shoulder to tie the game for the first and last time at 2-2. He followed with another drive and score to put the early lead at 12-4, scored a back-down basket the next time he touched the ball, then hit the first of three three-pointers to accelerate the burgeoning rout by putting his team up by the score of 24-6.
Bennett gave Ducas a blow at the 9:46 mark, then put him back in a few minutes later and watched him steal the ball and finish a run-out with a lay-up to put he Gaels up 28-12. Although LMU made a run that ultimately cut the Gael lead to six points, 32-26, in the final minute, Ducas then applied the coup-de-grace by matching an LMU three-pointer with one of his own to restore the Gael lead at 35-26. Gael guard Logan Johnson, having an excellent bounce-back game himself after a sub-par performance against Santa Clara, added a final bucket of his own to put the halftime score at 37-26 in favor of the Gaels.
They were just getting started.
Upping the pressure
Saint Mary’s has occasionally followed a superior first-half performance with a lethargic start to the second, but not Saturday. With Kyle Bowen picking up his third foul just as the half started, Bennett subbed in Dan Fotu, who rewarded the move with a put-back basket for a 39-26 lead. Johnson then followed with his second three-pointer of the game to push the margin to 42-26, then Ducas showed his versatility to increase he lead to 44-28.
Capitalizing on LMU’s awareness of his three-point prowess, Ducas faked a shot, then drove by his defender for a lay-up. When LMU answered the early Saint Mary’s outburst with a zone defense, the Gaels didn’t hesitate. Fotu immediately went to the middle of the zone, received a pass, then found Tass on the baseline for a jump hook and a 46-29 lead.
Then Ducas showed still another side of his game by dribbling along the baseline, taking advantage of a Tass screen to move laterally into the paint and finishing with a left-handed hook shot that drew a foul. Sinking the free throw, Ducas increased the Gael lead to 49-29.
He wasn’t finished, but LMU was. Climaxing a tour de force that was reminiscent of Patty Mills’s 37-point outburst over Oregon in Mills’s freshman year, Ducas sank a three-pointer at the 14:30 mark for a 52-29 Gael lead and the unofficial end of competition for the evening. Bennett waited a few minutes before sending Ducas to the bench at the 10:56 mark, allowing him to spend the rest of the game cheering on his teammates, who did not slacken the pace of the Saint Mary’s effort.
The subs shine
The rest of the game was basically a highlight reel for some of the Gael starters and all of their subs — everyone but the recently returned-from-injury Quinn Clinton got in the act. A few standout moments: Tass and Johnson executed a pretty give-and-go play on the baseline, finishing with a Tass lay-up; Fotu scored on a power drive; Johnson stole the ball from LMU’s befuddled star player, Eli Scott, and flushed it on the other end. Johnson came up game after the dunk, but it did not look like he had seriously stressed his ankle or knee, and he was seen laughing with the regulars on the bench in the final minutes.
Neither starting point guard Augustas Marciulionis nor veteran Tommy Kuhse added much to the stat sheet against LMU — Kuhse did not attempt a shot — but Marciulionis nevertheless put his stamp on the highlight reel. LMU was successful in foiling Saint Mary’s pick-and-roll attack by aggressively double-teaming the Gael guards and preventing them from passing to Tass for most of the game. But not one time with Goose pressing the attack.
Marciulionis whipped a bullet to Tass after the initial pressure at the top of the key, and the pass just cleared the outstretched hand of the LMU defender. Tass calmly received the missile and made a lay-up to push the Saint Mary’s advantage to 26 points, at 60-34.
Adding to the reel: Jabe Mullins, Ducas’s replacement, hit back-to-back three-pointers to follow up on his excellent effort against Santa Clara, then found Mitchell Saxen, subbing for Tass, under the basket. Saxen made the basket, was fouled, then sank the free throw; Leemet Bockler entered the game at the 6:30 mark, corralled a rebound and fed a fast-breaking Judah Brown on a run-out and flush; Bockler himself scored on a put-back, and even walk-on Luke Garrett got into the act with a driving scoop and score to put the advantage at 81-48; Bockler completed the Saint Mary’s scoring barrage with another put-back off a rebound for the final 83-51 margin.
All of this will be forgotten when Saint Mary’s crosses the Bay Bridge Thursday night for a showdown with the team that all the “experts” are promoting as heir to the Gaels’ standing as Gonzaga’s chief rival, San Francisco. Saint Mary’s held on to third place in the WCC at 3-1, behind Gonzaga and BYU, with the win over LMU, while San Francisco rests in fifth at 3-2 with its home win over Pepperdine.
This will be a game for the ages.
Alex Ducas, shown above sinking a free throw against Santa Clara Thursday night, had a spectacular game against Loyola Marymount on Saturday, scoring 22 points in 25 minutes of play. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.