by Michael Vernetti
Okay, Gael fans, ‘fess up: how many of you thought your team would come to rely on Kyle Bowen as one of its most dangerous three-point shooters?
If the answer is “none,” you’re not Debbie Downers, your skepticism just reflects the path Bowen has taken from reluctant chucker with a weird-looking delivery to the dude who has made 7-10 three-pointers in the last two games and now averages 39 per cent from distance. For comparison, fellow Aussie Alex Ducas, who is considered the gold standard of Gael three-point shooters, also sits at 39 per cent on threes, albeit on a larger sample size — 50/127 for Ducas compared to 27/69 for Bowen.
The Gaels’ hard-fought 71-60 win over Loyola Marymount Saturday in Moraga was largely reflective of the paths Bowen and Ducas have taken in their three years in Moraga. Bowen has stubbornly ignored negative thoughts about his shooting and worked hard to perfect his three-point stroke.
Ducas has overcome high expectations as an elite shooter, and fought through an injury (high ankle sprain) that derailed him last season when he was just beginning to blossom. Their separate paths converged last night in a showdown against a fired-up LMU team which didn’t take kindly to being humiliated by the Gaels 83-51 on its home court on Jan. 22.
Both Bowen and Ducas have shown signs of excellence in recent weeks, but the pair, the sole Gael recruits in 2019, put their stamp on this Saint Mary’ team by their play against LMU.
Solid when it counted
Ducas was aggressive from the start, taking the Gaels’ first shot — a runner in the paint following a feint toward a three-pointer that his defender expected — and sinking the first of five three-pointers six minutes later to give the Gaels the lead at 14-6. He remained aggressive and hot, despite having to defend one of LMU’s rising stars, the 6’8″ 230-pound sophomore Alex Markviladze, throughout the night.
As Markviladze — a steal from the transfer portal after a solid freshman campaign (10 PPG, 7 RPG) at Cal State Northridge — pulled LMU within four points at 46-42 with a nifty scoop shot, the Gaels regained some footing behind a three-point bucket from Logan Johnson. Ducas then stole the ball in the paint at LMU’s end of the court, raced down court and fired an audacious three-pointer that was — you guessed it — nothing but net.
Pressing his advantage — and running his point total to 22 — Ducas followed up the three with a sweet two-point jumper to give his team a 10-point lead, 54-44, with 11:20 left that it would need to hold off LMU down the stretch.
Bowen also struck early and often, hitting his first three-pointer from the corner at the 6:46 mark of the first half, and striking again shortly after the mid-way point as LMU crept within three points at 40-37 behind a three-pointer by Markviladze. Bowen’s second corner trey inspired a sigh of relief by fans and teammates, and gave his team a six-point edge at 43-37.
Continuing to deliver when the going got tough, Bowen hit his third triple shortly after LMU’s veteran inside scorer, Eli Scott, bullied his way to a basket that brought LMU within five points at 54-49. Bowen’s gutsy corner trey provided some much-needed breathing room for the Gaels and gave them an eight-point lead, 57-49, with 8:23 left in the game.
Bowen’s finishing touch
Then came the dagger. Scott, who was a monster down the stretch despite Bowen’s dogged defense, struck again with an inside bucket to cut the lead to five at 59-54. Showing versatility fans didn’t know he had, Bowen took a pass just to the left of the apex of the three-point circle and nailed his fourth three-pointer of the night for a 62-54 lead.
A few minutes later, Bowen picked up Scott as Scott tried to bull his way through the paint for a lay-up. It was not a decision to be taken lightly, as Scott can be fearsome to defend when he has the basket in sight. Nevertheless, Bowen stayed in front of Scott, and drew a charging call that kept LMU from shrinking a 62-56 lead. To cement the win, Ducas then sank his fifth three-pointer to give Saint Mary’s a comfortable lead at 67-56 with 1:42 left.
It was a great night for Aussies Bowen and Ducas, who totaled 37 points between them, aided greatly by 14 points each from Johnson and Tass. It also gave the Gaels a taste of what they can expect next Tuesday, when they take on Santa Clara at the Leavey Center, the first of three crucial games that week.
Santa Clara has prospered mightily with the wilting of BYU’s once-promising WCC chances, sliding into a tie for third place with San Francisco at 6-3 behind Gonzaga (8-0) and Saint Mary’s (7-1). BYU stayed mired in sixth place at 5-5 after a blowout loss to Gonzaga on its home court Saturday.
Therefore, the Broncos, who lost to Saint Mary’s 73-65 on Jan. 20 in Moraga, look at this Tuesday rematch as an opportunity to shove their way into top-tier WCC contention by taking down the Gaels. LMU was tough on the Gaels’ home court, but Santa Clara will be another level of tough on the road next Tuesday.
Alex Ducas, shown above firing a three-point attempt against LMU last night, was the soul of confidence, going 5-10 on three-point attempts and leading all scorers with 25 points. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.