While people didn't necessarily give up on Santa Clara when it came to discussing who could win the West Coast Conference, there weren't a lot of outside believers in Kerry Keating's team once forward Marc Trasolini was lost for the season in the summer due to a knee injury. And there were even fewer folks left in the aftermath of their 89-56 loss at UCSB just over a week ago. But if their 79-76 overtime win over New Mexico in a 76 Classic quarterfinal showed anything it's that Santa Clara remains capable of being a factor in the WCC race.
"The media was saying that New Mexico was going to win this whole tournament," said Kevin Foster. "We have a chip on our shoulder and bring it every day. It was a full team effort and we hope we could keep that going."
Guards Foster and Evan Roquemore scored 26 points apiece for the Broncos, who led by as many as 12 points in the first half before the preseason Mountain West favorites made their charge. Tony Snell led UNM with 18 points and freshman Hugh Greenwood added 14, but Steve Alford needs his two bell cows to get rolling. Drew Gordon did score 11 points and grab ten rebounds but was only 2-for-8 from the field and Kendall Williams wend 0-for-4, scoring all six of his points from the charity stripe.
The biggest development for Santa Clara in this win may actually be the play of forward Niyi Harrison, who scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 44 minutes of action. He's one of the players who has been asked to step up with Trasolini done for the season, and his scoring average has jumped more than ten points from last season to this. It's a pretty safe bet that Foster and Roquemore will be productive offensively, but if Santa Clara is to challenge the likes of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's they'll need the big men to chip in as well.
"We are happy that we got a chance to compete against [New Mexico]," said Keating following the game. "We have a really young team, but we grew up a little bit, showing some resiliency tonight. We came out with a great win,"
Other Notable Happenings
1. The perception of the Pac-12 takes another hit with three in-season tournament losses.
It's no secret that much of the college basketball world doesn't think much of the Pac-12, but to be fair the conference hasn't done well in improving that perception. Thursday night certainly didn't help with three teams losing by double digits, but it should also be noted that the three losers (Arizona State, Utah and Washington State) were all picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in the preseason. Utah was overmatched from the opening tip against Harvard as they were whipped 75-47 in the Battle For Atlantis in the Bahamas. Arizona State couldn't make shots as they lost to Fairfield 55-44 at the Old Spice Classic, and Washington State couldn't match the energy level of Oklahoma in the Sooners' 74-59 win at the 76 Classic. Washington State scored just 19 points in the second half and turned the ball over 22 times for the game. So what's the culprit in regards to the conference's struggles? Talent, youth or a combination of both? That's a question the Pac-12 teams will collectively look to erase in the final month before conference play.
2. Indiana State uses defense to beat Texas Tech and remain undefeated.
It certainly wasn't pretty but Greg Lansing's Sycamores were able to hold off Texas Tech 60-49 due to their play on the defensive end. The Red Raiders shot a better percentage from the field than Indiana State (42.9% to 35.7%), but their 18 turnovers in a 62 possession game resulted in a horrific offensive efficiency of 79.0. That's not going to get it done against many teams, much less one that's expected to be a major player in the Missouri Valley race along with Creighton and Wichita State. Jake Odum led the Sycamores with 13 points and four assists, and in addition to their ability to turn Texas Tech over ISU attempted 31 free throws to the Red Raiders' nine (25-5 scoring edge from the charity stripe). They'll face a Minnesota team that's got some size inside, but there's no reason why Indiana State can't win the Old Spice Classic.
3. Connecticut needs to get more production from their frontcourt, namely Alex Oriakhi.
There's no doubt that the Huskies have one of the best backcourts in the nation in point guard Shabazz Napier and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb. But if Jim Calhoun's team is tobe mentioned in a similar class to the likes of North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State come March they're going to need more from the frontcourt. The defending national champs' fast start established enough breathing room to take care of UNC Asheville 73-63, but they may not be so lucky against teams with better (and bigger) big men. Andre Drummond got the start for Alex Oriakhi and scored nine points while Tyler Olander added four and Oriakhi scored four off the bench. That's not going to be enough from those three as the Huskies move into Big East play. Keith Clanton and company will provide a good challenge on Friday, and whichever team they play in their final game in the Bahamas (Harvard or Florida State) should do so as well. The pieces are there for a run at a repeat, but not if the UConn big men don't bring their collective A-game.
1. Florida State once again has one of the best defenses in the country, but if they don't take better care of the basketball it'll be tough for them to mount a significant challenge to North Carolina and Duke in the ACC. FSU turned the ball over 23 times against UMass on Thursday, with Luke Loucks leading the way with six and Okaro White had five.
2. Be patient with DePaul. This is a team that's essentially being taught how to win by Oliver Purnell and his staff, and they received a tough lesson in their 86-85 loss to Minnesota. But the signs of improvement are definitely there, and in Cleveland Melvin (20 points) and Brandon Young (23 points) they've got one of the better sophomore tandems in the Big East.
3. At this point it would be a surprise if New Mexico State didn't win the Great Alaska Shootout. Marvin Menzies' team dropped the hammer on Central Michigan, winning 78-49 thanks in large part to their defense (CMU turned the ball over 21 times and was out-rebounded 54-35) and a balanced scoring effort in which all ten players who played scored (team-high 15 points for Bandja Sy).
4. UCF outscored College of Charleston 18-5 over the final 7:50 to win 74-63 in the Battle for Atlantis, and their defense was a key factor. Also of importance: the Knights' offensive rebounding rate of 40%, which played a big factor in their 44-25 rebounding edge.
5. All five starters reached double figures for Dayton in their 80-76 win over Wake Forest, but the biggest line could be that of Matt Kavanaugh. The junior forward/cernter put up 15 points and 13 rebounds, and is averaging 9.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Kavanaugh averaged just nine minutes and two points per game last season.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Keith Clanton (UCF)
28 points and 14 rebounds in the Knights' 74-63 win over College of Charleston.
2. G Kevin Foster and G Evan Roquemore (Santa Clara)
26 points apiece and nine assists combined in the Broncos' 79-76 win over New Mexico.
3. G Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)
23 points and seven assists in the Huskies' 73-63 win over UNC Asheville.