Feb. 19, 2002
With just two games left in the regular season, Dick Davey's Broncos are gunning for the third seed in the WCC tourney and it's not too early to look at possible opponents.
After a home sweep of San Francisco and Saint Mary's, the Broncos picked up two games to pull into a tie for third-place with USF. The final two games of the regular season will determine if Santa Clara will play host San Diego in the 4-5 game or Saint Mary's, Portland or LMU in the 3-6 showdown.
This weekend Broncos head to So Cal and will play the Lions on Friday followed by Pepperdine on Saturday, making it the second set of back-to-backs in conference. In the other set of back-to-back games, Santa Clara squeaked past Saint Mary's and were blown out in San Francisco.
In THEIR pursuit of third-place, the Dons host Gonzaga and Portland. It's a team still looking for an answer at the point after LyRyan Russell was lost with a torn ACL. Coach Mathews faces the challenge of regrouping after being beaten soundly at Santa Clara and by 33 at San Diego.
LMU, Saint Mary's and Portland are in a three-way tie for sixth place at 2-10 heading into the final weekend. The Broncos have swept both the Gaels and Pilots but were given a harder time by Saint Mary's. After the narrow escape last Saturday, I asked assistant coach Steve Seandel if he agreed that the Gaels are the kind of team that could specialize in ulcer installation come tournament time.
"You know, it's interesting. I sat with Bill Grier from Gonzaga before they played here two weeks ago and he told me Portland had given them a hard time. If he had his choice, he'd rather play Saint Mary's than Portland. I told him he was absolutely crazy but, in his defense, he said that before Saint Mary's started playing pretty well. They beat Loyola by 20, took Pepperdine to the last few minutes and went down to the wire at San Diego. They are a different team than when they went through Spokane and I think the Zags will find out when they come down here this weekend."
Steve Ross scored 24 points after wiping the tears from his eyes on Senior Day. He was the only Bronco not to bend the rims against Saint Mary's. The rest of his teammates shot a combined 7-for-29.
"They are the best defensive team in the league," said Ross. "They are not overly big or great shooters but they are just so darn scrappy."
The regular season games with the Gaels may finally have reignited a rivalry that has fizzled. There haven't been games like the one on February 21, 1998 when Saint Mary's came to Toso with a chip on their shoulders. The year before, they won the conference tourney and made the NCAA tournament. In the spirit of college pranks, some Santa Clara fans entered McKeon Pavillion and removed their championship banner and replaced it with another that read, "$20,000 a year is a lot for a J.C. Go Broncos!" Then coach Dave Bollwinkel left the banner for his team to see during practice before the Santa Clara game which they won 96-95. Frank Allocco, Jr. made 2 free throws with 2 seconds left after referee Ron Richardson called an offensive foul on Brian Jones.
After the final two games, the bottom three teams could still be tied and eventually separated by the conference tie-breaker. The first tiebreaker procedure is head-to-head competition. If that doesn't settle the issue, then each team is judged on how they did against the teams above them starting with the first place team. If Saint Mary's is tied with LMU (presuming Santa Clara beats the Lions on Friday), then the Gaels take 6th by virtue of their win over San Diego. If the Lions beat Santa Clara and ends up tied with Saint Mary's, then LMU takes the tie-breaker because of the win over Santa Clara. That last scenario could push the Broncos into the fourth seed, depending on how the Dons fare with Gonzaga and Portland.
With so many combinations to ponder, it can be reduced to this: Take care of business and they'll probably get Saint Mary's in the 3-6, a loss to LMU more than likely gets them USD in the 4-5. By the way, the Broncos are 4-1 at Jenny Craig the last 2 years, including 2 wins over the Toreros.
Let the games begin.