Last night we learned something. It wasn't necessarily new, or surprising, though it was perhaps a bit disappointing.
The West Coast Conference will likely be a two-team race after all -and BYU is the common thread through it all.
Coming into this season, there was a lot of talk about how strong Gonzaga and St. Mary's would be, as they usually are. But there was also a lot of chatter about the potential for a deeper, more dominant top half of the conference with San Diego, Santa Clara and BYU all running the possibility of a strong and/or surprising season both in and out of conference play.
Santa Clara and San Diego unraveled early on: the Broncos came *thisclose* to finishing nonconference play 13-1, then narrowly lost to Gonzaga. Unfortunately, they then managed to lose on the road to last place Loyola Marymount and then returned home to get manhandled by BYU.
San Diego was up and down from the start, going 7-8 in non-conference play with several close losses, all of which look worse by the week. Despite that, they started conference play 4-0 and appeared to have perhaps turned a corner.
Then in their past two games against BYU and Saint Mary's, we learned the truth. They hung with the Cougars for a little more than a half, but then an 11-4 run early in the second frame put the game out of reach for good as BYU did just about whatever they wanted on offense.
Then last night happened - Saint Mary's raced out to a 25-9 lead while baffling San Diego out of their offensive rhythm. The Toreros achieved some measure of offensive balance in terms of scoring, but it is usually a death sentence when your opponent's fourth leading scorer (Dellavedova's 9 points) would have been your top scorer.
BYU showed Santa Clara and San Diego as pretenders, and appeared to have at least separated into the top tier, since the pull away domination of San Diego followed on the heels of just barely falling to Saint Mary's at the buzzer. That said, after what happened last night I do not think they are a legitimate conference title contender.
Coming into last night's game against Gonzaga, the Cougars had Tyler Haws averaging 21 points and 5 rebounds per game, plus another 18 points per night from Brandon Davies. Gonzaga, on the flip side, was getting 18 and 7 from big man Kelly Olynyk, another 15 a night from Elias Harris, and 12 per night from Kevin Pangos.
All you need to know about this came can be summed up in one statement: Haws and Olynyk both took exactly nine shots during last night's game - Olynyk made all nine, and Haws missed all nine, mostly from the wings. BYU scored 63 points as a team - the same amount that Gonzaga got from their three top scorers. Even Davies struggled mightily, finishing with 14 total points but only two in the first half (when the outcome was still in doubt).
Nothing is guaranteed, but the odds are high that the following will occur: Santa Clara and San Diego will duel it out to see who is fourth best in the conference, and BYU could very well enter their last three conference games (at Saint Mary's, home vs Gonzaga, at Loyola) at 11-2 in conference play. That said, I'm not even sure they'll play Saint Mary's close again, let alone beat them, what with the clinic Gonzaga just put on - and they certainly aren't on the Zags' level.
Welcome to the conference, Cougars. Nice try.