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3 Thoughts from WCC Saturday: It was a big day for the teams near the top

Here’s everything you need to know about what happened in the West Coast Conference this weekend.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at Brigham Young
Is fan-favorite Gavin Baxter the future face of BYU basketball?
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Scores

San Francisco Dons 80, Saint Mary’s Gaels 86
San Diego Toreros 69, Gonzaga Bulldogs 85
Loyola Marymount Lions 49, BYU Cougars 67
Portland Pilots 63, Santa Clara Broncos 69
Pepperdine Waves 59, Pacific Tigers 66

San Francisco suffers serious setback at Saint Mary’s

If there was any doubt about San Francisco’s at-large status before, there certainly isn’t anymore.

The Dons (17-5, 5-3) had a chance to pick up a much-needed Quadrant 1 victory Saturday afternoon in Moraga, but Saint Mary’s (14-9, 5-3) had other plans.

The Gaels put on a blistering offensive display in the first half and led by double-figures for most of the game. Sophomore forward Malik Fitts (30 points) and sophomore guard Tommy Kuhse (17 points) each put up career highs in scoring.

San Francisco made a comeback attempt in the second half and cut the Gaels’ lead to two possessions in the final moments. The Dons came up short and now find themselves tied with Saint Mary’s in the standings at 5-3.

When you watch them play, the Dons look deserving of a spot in the Big Dance. The computers seem to agree: KenPom has the Dons’ at No. 43 nationally, while Massey and the NET peg them at No. 46. But their résumé simply doesn’t stack up with the other at-large contenders. San Francisco is now 0-3 in Quad 1 games this season and 1-1 in Quad 2. Saint Mary’s on the other hand, is 1-4 against Quad 1 and 1-2 in Quad 2. You could argue, reasonably, that the Gaels’ résumé is better than San Francisco’s.

Is Gavin Baxter the next face of BYU basketball?

The Cougars (14-10, 6-3) found themselves in a fight with the LMU Lions (16-7, 4-5) on Saturday night. BYU was down three, 23-26, at the break after an ugly first half. Freshman forward Gavin Baxter, who was making his first career start, put up a respectable eight points in the first half. But it was in the second half when the now-former spark-off-the-bench really broke through.

Baxter scored 17 of his career high 25 points after halftime. He outdid his previous career high of 14 in the second half alone. Before Saturday, Baxter had only hit double-figures in scoring on two occasions.

A four-star prospect coming out of high school, Baxter’s ability was no secret to die-hard Cougar fans. Over the past few weeks, as his playing time and impact increased, fans were clamoring on Twitter and in message boards to get Baxter into the starting lineup.

With his performance Saturday, those fans should feel validated. Coming off a 30-point loss at home to Gonzaga in a season that already saw BYU suffer through two separate three-game losing streaks, this performance was a sight for sore eyes. Perhaps it will give the fans and the team some hope for the future. Despite all the adversity, BYU is now half-a-game ahead of San Francisco and Saint Mary’s for second place in the WCC standings.

Gonzaga continues to steamroll the opposition

The Zags (21-2, 8-0) came into this one winning their conference games by an average of 31 points. So, Saturday’s 16 point home victory over San Diego (15-8, 4-4) might not seem like a blow out. But it was yet another example of the Zags having their way in WCC play.

Gonzaga has not lost yet this season in conference play. Their WCC winning streak, dating back to last year, is now at 22 games. If you take BYU and Saint Mary’s out of the equation, that winning streak would date back 1,807 days. The last time a team other than the Gaels or Cougars defeated Gonzaga was February 22, 2014, and the team that did it was San Diego.

This year’s Toreros are better than the 2014 squad by a considerable margin. Isaiah Pineiro (30 points) kept San Diego in the game for the first 20 minutes or so. Even without Olin Carter, who was sidelined with an abdominal injury for the fifth straight game, the Toreros have enough veteran, talented players to keep things close. It was tied at 24 at the under-eight TV timeout, and then just a two point game at the next media stoppage.

But, while San Diego has Isaiah Pineiro, Gonzaga has Rui Hachimura (32 points). And that veteran depth that allowed the Toreros to be competitive? It was going up against a Gonzaga team that had four players score in double-figures. Of those four, the least experienced is a guy in his third season at Gonzaga: redshirt sophomore guard Zach Norvell (21 points).

Gonzaga’s always been the class of the West Coast Conference. This season, with the rest of the league better than ever, Gonzaga’s even farther ahead than normal.