by Michael Vernetti
Your faithful correspondent did make the trek to War Memorial Gym Thursday night, did write about the Gaels’ marvelous comeback win over San Francisco and did attempt to post it in this space. Alas, the computer gods decided to devour it after 236 straight posts without a hitch, so it is lost in cyberspace. Onward!
Pepperdine will be good, probably sooner than most people think. This statement undoubtedly baffles some fans who watched Saint Mary’s build a 31-point lead over the Waves Saturday afternoon and cruise to an 81-57 victory. Nevertheless, Lorenzo Romar has assembled an excellent group that will get better and better.
Pepperdine, who has yet to win a conference game and is 6-17 overall, starts a back court of two freshmen, Mike Mitchell Jr. and Houston Mallette, and against the Gaels was forced to start another freshman, Carson Basham, at center because of lingering injuries to the team’s leading scorer, Jan Zidek, the 6’9″ junior from the Czech Republic.
Along with sophomore Kendall Munson, the Waves also started senior Jade’ Smith, but kept their best prospect, freshman Maxwell Lewis, in reserve. Lewis, who was shining so brightly as a junior at basketball power Compass Prep in Arizona that he passed up his senior year to prepare for an NBA bid that didn’t materialize, led the Waves last night with 16 points on 4-10 shooting, and definitely has game.
All this is to say that the Waves could have provided a severe test to the high-flying Gaels after Saint Mary’s rebounded from a 17-point halftime deficit to edge San Francisco by 72-70. The shopworn phrase “trap game” probably found itself on the lips of more than one Gael fan, but it did not turn out that way.
Instead, the Gaels took care of business in their own house. They pounded the ball inside to Matthias Tass, who tied for scoring honors with Tommy Kuhse with 16 points after a 27-point effort against San Francisco, hit their outside shots (9-19, 47 per cent) and took care of the basketball, something Romar’s charges have not yet mastered. Careless ball-handling and passing by the young Waves cost them 17 turnovers, including 13 steals by the tenacious Gael defenders.
Continuing to benefit from a strong bench, Saint Mary’s got big boosts from Jabe Mullins — 11 points including 3-4 on three-pointers — Mitchell Saxen — four points in 10 minutes following an eight-points-in-eight minute effort against San Francisco — and Kuhse, continuing to come off the bench behind starter Augustas Marciulionis. That’s 31 bench points from three players.
Kuhse, of course, could have an asterisk beside the “bench points” description since Gael Coach Randy Bennett obviously favors his six-year veteran over starter Marciulionis, who totaled three points and three steals in 16 minutes against Kuhse’s 16 points and seven assists in 31 minutes. Bennett sees value in starting Marciulionis, even though Kuhse has been stellar coming off the bench.
Former Oklahoma State hoops star turned peripatetic announcer/analyst Doug Gottlieb said it best during his coverage of the San Francisco game: “Kuhse is better right now, but Marciulionis will be better than Kuhse in the future, so Bennett has to use him.”
Second in the WCC
Saint Mary’s epic win over San Francisco coincided with another beneficial event Thursday night — Santa Clara’s upset of BYU at Santa Clara. The gods continued smiling last night, as BYU fell to Pacific in Stockton and dropped to fourth place in the WCC at 5-3. The Gaels are in second at 5-1 behind the undefeated (in conference) Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Because of weird scheduling, compounded by Covid-related make-up games, the Saint Mary’s schedule from here on in is unusually difficult. They head to Portland next Thursday and return for a rematch with Loyola Marymount in Moraga next Saturday. So far, so good, but it gets worse.
Squeezing in a make-up game against Santa Clara on the road on Tuesday, Feb. 8, the Gaels play San Diego at home two days later before heading to Spokane for a tilt with no. 1 ranked Gonzaga on Saturday. Talk about a week from….not heaven.
A make-up home game against San Francisco is scheduled for the Thursday following the Gonzaga game (Feb. 17), then the Gaels face BYU the following Saturday. Both San Francisco and BYU will consider these games as must-wins, so Saint Mary’s will have to mount an exceptional effort on both nights.
Finally, to finish off the 2021-22 WCC schedule, Saint Mary’s travels to San Diego on Feb. 24 and concludes against Gonzaga on the 26th at home. Whew!
With excellent wins over Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, San Francisco and Pepperdine in succession, Saint Mary’s appears to be jelling at a good point. Whether the recent success portends a successful WCC season — holding on to the second spot — is far from certain, however.
Much work to be done.
Matthias Tass, shown above in an earlier game this season, continued a string of strong performances with a 16-point, six rebound effort against Pepperdine. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.