WCC: Day 4 wrap

By Lindsay Schnell - March 06, 2007

Two weeks ago in Spokane, Gonzaga took then-No. 8 Memphis to overtime, falling 88-87. This was just the Bulldogs' third game without Josh Heytvelt, who had been suspended after drug possession charges. The loss marked the 10th for Gonzaga, a first since the 1997-98 season. But it might have been the best thing that happened to them.

It was, without a doubt, a mental turning point for the Zags; a sort of "make or break" type game. Heytvelt was an intergral part of the team: he led the Zags in rebounds and scored the second-most points per night. The Zags lost that night to Memphis, but they learned something: they could do it without him.

"That was a really big turning point for us, especially when we got down," said coach Mark Few. "We got down to the point where 12 could have got to 30 and our guys just drew the line in the sand and just made plays. You can't pick out one guy or one thing, that's just character. I think right then and there we knew we could still play with anybody."

And that, in my mind, is why Gonzaga beat Santa Clara 77-68 Monday night in Portland for the WCC Championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. When adversity hits a team, players do one of two things: come together and overcome it, or fall apart because they just weren't ready. The Zags, led by senior point guard Derek Raivio, rallied and dove headfirst into the rest of the WCC season.

"Definitely a mental turning point," Raivio said of the Memphis game. "We had to prove a lot for ourselves and I think we did that."

Few says there's no doubt they're playing their best ball right now and after Raivio's performance, you have to wonder if he can do anything more individually. He scored a career-high 28 points (going 10-for-10 from the charity stripe), dished out four assists and snagged three steals against the Broncos.

"He did what every great senior that we've had at Gonzaga has done at this time of year: He played his best game he's ever played in the biggest moment and when we needed him most," Few said. "He strapped us on his back and delivered us."

Raivio had some help too -- Matt Bouldin (a rookie, nonetheless) socred 14 points and grabbed five rebounds, three of which were offensive. He scored on at least two of those and both putbacks came at big times.

"He's such a versatile player and I have a lot of confidence in him and I don't have any problem calling his number when we need a basket down the stretch in a game," Few said. "For a freshman to step into an environment like that ... he did an outstanding job."

Micah Downs notched a double-double, grabbing 10 boards and chipping in 12 points. David Pendergraft also had 12 points.

The Broncos were led by Scott Dougherty who scored 16 points. Three other Santa Clara players were also in double figures. Now it's a waiting game for the Broncos: coach Dick Davey said he would give his guys a few days off (after joking that they would practice tomorrow at 9 am) and then start practicing again with hopes of going to a postseason tourney.

And this is where it gets tricky: Davey said he thinks there's no chance of them going to the NCAAs (who knows with the NIT) and it's a shame according to Few.

"They are an NCAA tournament team, and the computers don't reflect that," Few said. "They are incredibly difficult to prepare for, incredibly difficult to stop on the defensive end, and harder than heck to score on on the offensive end. And to me that's an NCAA tournament team."

It's true that the WCC doesn't get much love from the selection committee unless you attend a small Jesuit school in Spokane. But Few also pointed out that the WCC hasn't yet figured out how to manipulate the RPI, something other small schools (read: everyone in the MVC) has started to do consistently.

Should Santa Clara not get a spot in any postseason show, it might be the end of a career for Davey. Davey is pretty much being forced out by the Santa Clara administration after this season, and Few wasn't shy about sharing his feelings regarding that.

"It's been an honor to compete against a guy like Dick Davey," Few said." He's been great for our profession and he's somebody I've looked up to. He's done it right and I don't agree with how they've handled their business down there. He should have been able to go out on his own terms.

"When you are winning games and not cheating and doing it right, that's what college basketball is all about....I think the world of him and I hope he coaches again because he deserves to."

Now it's dancing time for the Zags, who I think could really do some damage in the tourney. Yeah, they're kinda small and they've had a rough year, but they're peaking at the right time. And even if it kills him, Raivio isn't going to let this team lose. There was one point tonight during a timeout when Raivio was leaned over a garbage can puking. He refused to let Few take him out though, and went in and sank two FTs. Talk about heart.

All Tourney Team:
Ross DeRogatis, SDU
Dougherty, SCU
Downs, Gonzaga
Pendergraft, Gonzaga
MVP: Raivio, Gonzaga

(Darn it, I was one off!)

Quote of the Day 4: "I don't want this to be about me, I want it to be about the kids ... but I love this game, what can I say?"

How can you not love a coach like Davey when he says something like that? He got a little choked up during that part of the press conference, and I really wanted to throw media objectivity out the window and go give the guy a hug. I think any former athlete can appreciate a coach like him and I'm with Few on this one: things were not handled correctly at SCU. My heart goes out to Davey but more importantly, so does my respect.

Fan of Day 4: I can only assume it was Derek Raivio's mom: a tiny blonde woman who jumped into her son's arms after his MVP award was announced. And you've gotta love that he hugged her back just as hard. (She also jumped really high for such a little woman, which impresses me, someone with a credit card jump.)

Player of Day 4: Do you really have to ask? But maybe I deserve some kudos for giving him this title despite the tattoo on his right shoulder. Gotta love a kid like Raivio who plays with so much heart and guts, but talk about a prime example of skinny white people who should not get tattoos.

But maybe I should be quiet before he lights ME up for 28 points.

Posted by Lindsay Schnell at 12:08 AM on March 06, 2007

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