St. Mary's has a problem. Heading into the Diamond Head Classic 7th place game, the Gaels were fouling too much. They were turning the ball over. They had lost two in a row -- the first losses of the year for the team that had tied the best start in school history.
Within the first 10 minutes of the game, the problems came to a head. Brad Waldow, the man who powers this Gaels offense had been saddled with two fouls, sending him to the bench.
The effect was apparent immediately.
No longer was St. Mary's able to control the paint on either end. No longer was St. Mary's able to feed the ball inside and grab two points against a mismatched George Mason team.
No longer was St. Mary's going to be able to hold onto an impressive lead that had grown to as many as 10 points.
George Mason has problems too. They had trouble generating much offense against what had become a very difficult St. Mary's defense. They had trouble defending against the extra pass that the Gaels were using to live from the 3-point line. They don't share the ball (just four assists!)
But their problems seemed to pale to the issues that St. Mary's was dragging behind them like a ball and chain.
Without Waldow, the Gaels were just a different team.
You can blame Matt Hodgson,for some of it, but it wouldn't be fair. He had yet to play more than 15 minutes in a game all season. He ran the court for 23 in this one.
But even if he was not playing more minutes than ever before, he wasn't having the presence that St. Mary's needed.
That is why they are going home from Hawaii with three losses, after dropping this one, 65-63.
Randy Bennett was not amused:
Randy Bennett is not amused. pic.twitter.com/2FUjBvLbg9— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) December 25, 2013
The team now has to play without its head coach for the first five games of the WCC season. That is a tough task this year, given the depth in the league. No one, not even Gonzaga, is going to be safe from at least a couple of losses in conference. This makes it more likely that the Gaels see theirs come early.
The WCC is a league that has had a bad couple of weeks. From Gonzaga's odd loss to Kansas State, to BYU's failure to be able to close out good teams, we are seeing a league whose top teams are just not carrying the standard.
That is a sharp contrast to what happened to begin the year, when no one could beat the teams in the WCC.
That is not to say that the league isn't good. But right now, they are having an identity problem, and trying to cope with the fact that all three are not the same teams that they were just a year ago. They have all had personnel changes that have changed the way that they need to play.
How that carries over into the early conference season could go a long way to determining who is standing on top at the end of February.
Patrick Holloway came off the bench for George Mason for some big shots, and finished with 15 points, while Bryon Allen added 15 of his own. Stephen Holt had 14 points for the Gaels and James Walker III hit four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points and six rebounds in the loss.