College Hoops Thursday Recap: Zags Not Ready to Pass Torch Just Yet

    
February 25th, 2011
Just a month ago the question was not just whether or not Gonzaga would get to the NCAA Tournament but also if their run atop the West Coast Conference was coming to an end. But what's said on the outside doesn't have to be accepted inside of a locker room, that's been the case for Mark Few's team as they've hung around. The end result was the chance to pull into a tie for first place, an opportunity the Bulldogs took full advantage of in their 89-85 overtime win at Saint Mary's. Sam Dower led five players in double figures with 21 points off the bench and Elias Harris added 18 for Gonzaga, who are one win away from clinching at least a share of the WCC title.

Matthew Dellavedova (24 points) and Rob Jones (21) led the way for Saint Mary's, who has now dropped three straight games and could need to win the conference tournament in order to return to the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga was outscored by 18 on three-point shots but they made up for it by shooting 61% on two-pointers and getting to the foul line for 29 attempts, making 23. The Bulldogs also enjoyed a 33-27 edge on the boards, beating the Gaels despite the home team's ability to knock down perimeter shots.

This development should make for an exciting conference tournament in Las Vegas next weekend, with both teams looking for the automatic bid that guarantees security on Selection Sunday along with challengers who have shown the ability to knock Gonzaga and Saint Mary's off. But both need to take care of business on Saturday (Gonzaga at San Diego, Saint Mary's vs. Portland) with San Francisco trailing by just a game in the standings. Saint Mary's had two opportunities to improve their standings with games at home against Utah State and Gonzaga and missed on both, something they could lament in a couple weeks.

Other Notable Happenings

1. Arizona falls at USC while UCLA beats Arizona State, setting up a showdown for the Pac-10 lead on Saturday.
Before Thursday night the last time Nikola Vucevic's father watched him play in a basketball game the junior was 16 years old. Vucevic more than made up for the gap in addition to adding intrigue to the Pac-10 race, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in USC's 65-57 win over #10 Arizona at the Galen Center. Alex Stepheson also posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Jio Fontan scored 21 as the Trojans moved into sole possession of fourth place. The win, combined with UCLA's 71-53 win over Arizona State, also moved the Bruins to within a game of the Wildcats for first place going into Saturday's showdown at Pauley Pavilion.

Arizona shot just 35.8% from the field but even worse was their assist-to-turnover ratio, finishing with two assists to eleven turnovers. Derrick Williams was limited to just eight points on 3-for-11 shooting as the Trojans did the best job defensively that anyone's done on the surefire All-America. But do the Bruins have the ability to slow him down? In the first meeting between the two Williams attempted just 10 shots but he made seven in scoring 22 points. Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Anthony Stover (Brendan Lane as well) will all need to be ready for Williams if the Bruins are to tie things up in the Pac-10 standings.

2. Marquette succeeds and Georgia fails in the quest for a needed road victory.
Thursday night provided more than a few teams another opportunity to strengthen their case for an NCAA Tournament bid, and Marquette and Georgia were two of those squads. But the Golden Eagles were the ones who took advantage of the opportunity, coming back to beat Connecticut on the road 74-67 in overtime. Darius Johnson-Odom's conversion of a Kemba Walker turnover in the final seconds of regulation sent the game into OT, and once there Johnson-Odom scored nine of his 17 points. Jimmy Butler added 16 and Dwight Buycks 13 off the bench as Marquette picked up their fourth RPI Top 50 win (4-10 record).

As for Georgia they had their issues at Florida, being outscored 45-29 in the second half in the Gators' 71-62 win. Florida clinched the top spot in the SEC East with the win and while Georgia did shoot 50% from the field the help for Travis Leslie (20 points) and Trey Thompkins (16) was limited for much of the night. The Bulldogs are now 3-9 against the RPI Top 50 and while a number of bubble teams can't match the win total, the Bulldogs need to finish strong before heading to the SEC Tournament. Their final three are South Carolina and LSU at home followed by a trip to Alabama, providing Georgia with a manageable (on paper) schedule to state their case.

3. Murray State defends their home floor, clinching the OVC's top seed as well.
In addition to Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), George Mason (CAA) and Long Beach State (Big West), Murray State wrapped up a Postseason NIT bid should they need it. The Racers beat rival Morehead State 70-62 behind 25 points and seven rebounds from B.J. Jenkins and 14 from Isaiah Canaan, and as a team the Racers assisted on 14 of their 20 field goals in addition to getting to the foul line at a far higher rate than the Eagles. While Billy Kennedy's team isn't as highly thought of as last year's group that won an NCAA Tournament game they may be rounding into form at just the right time, having won 10 of their last 11 games. The OVC Tournament in Nashville will once again be a tough weekend given the quality at the top of the standings, but at the very least Murray State has positioned themselves well for a run at another title.

Top Three Games

1. Gonzaga 89, Saint Mary's 85 (OT)

2. Marquette 74, (14) Connecticut 67 (OT)

3. San Francisco 79, Pepperdine 78 (OT) A pair of Rashad Green free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining in overtime proved to be the difference as the Dons beat the Waves. San Francisco had five players reach double figures with Angelo Caloiaro's 17 leading the way, and Mychel Thompson paced Pepperdine with 31.

Three Notable Performances

1. G Alex Francis (Bryant) 43 points (20-27 FG) and nine rebounds in the Bulldogs' 94-85 loss at LIU.

2. C Keith Benson (Oakland) 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in the Golden Grizzlies' 103-90 win at UMKC.

3. G Donald Sims (Appalachian State) 32 points, six assists and five rebounds in the Mountaineers' 85-70 win over Charleston.

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