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Bouldin in line for WCC player of year?

Gonzaga has won (or shared) the last eight WCC player of the year awards. With four games remaining in the WCC season, Matt Bouldin is in position to make it nine straight Bulldogs.

More on Bouldin and the other WCC awards, GU’s Thursday night matchup with Loyola Marymount and a note from Thursday’s Four Corners page below.


First, a look at contenders for WCC awards…

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

These streaks usually go hand in hand.

With one win or one Portland loss, Gonzaga will wrap up its ninth consecutive West Coast Conference men’s basketball title. The Bulldogs also have won eight straight WCC player of the year awards.

While the 17th-ranked Bulldogs securing another title seems inevitable with seventh-place Loyola Marymount visiting tonight, the POY probably isn’t quite a slam dunk. More like an uncontested layup.

Junior guard Matt Bouldin has put up strong numbers in WCC play, averaging nearly 16 points per game on 53-percent shooting, including 48.8 percent on 3-pointers. He’s third in WCC games at four assists per game and first in assists-to-turnover ratio (2.50). He’s 10th in steals (1.3).

Bouldin has scored in double figures in every WCC game except San Diego, when he had nine points.

“Matt has been very, very consistent,” GU coach Mark Few said. “That’s been such a blessing for us. We’ve needed somebody to be consistent for us night in, night out.”

Bouldin’s primary competition for the award appears to be Santa Clara senior center John Bryant. Saint Mary’s guard Patty Mills was considered a favorite until he suffered a broken hand against Gonzaga last month in Spokane.

Bryant is averaging 17.9 points and a whopping 15.3 rebounds. He leads the conference in field-goal percentage (62.1) and blocked shots (2.55).

“I would think one of the players from Gonzaga would be the obvious choice,” said Portland coach Eric Reveno, a strong candidate for coach of the year along with Few, who has won or shared the award seven of the last eight years. “Matt’s playing tremendously in conference and (Austin) Daye’s performances have been really good. Bouldin just seems to be so consistent in his production, intensity and bringing a lot of intangibles.”

Bryant’s numbers are impressive. He has four games with 20-plus points and rebounds, most in the country. He has 21 double-doubles this season, including 10 of 11 WCC games. But the Broncos are currently in fourth place.

Only once in the last eight years was the player of the year award shared. GU’s Derek Raivio shared the honor with Santa Clara’s Sean Denison in 2007, when the Broncos lost two games on the last weekend of the regular season to drop behind Gonzaga in the standings. Other than Denison, San Francisco’s Kenyon Jones in 2000 was the last player on a non-championship team to win the award. USF placed fifth as Pepperdine claimed the title.

Santa Clara could put itself toward the top (of the standings) and you’d have to consider John based on is numbers,” Reveno said. “But it makes sense that it goes to a team at the top of the conference.”

Since the calendar turned to 2009, Bouldin has improved his scoring average by two points per game. He’s had three games of 20 or more, including a pair of 26-point games (Tennessee and Portland). He scored 17 and 21, respectively, against third-place Saint Mary’s.

“I think it’s going to come down to Matt winning it outright,” said Bulldogs guard Jeremy Pargo, who won the award last season. “We’re 10-0 in conference and we have a chance to clinch the league this week. Anytime you clinch the league a week early, I think the best player on the team has to get it and Matt has been unbelievable for us down the stretch.”

Bouldin has spent zero time thinking about the award.

“One of my friends mentioned it the other day,” he said. “I thought he was messing with me.”

Portland’s T.J. Campbell is one of the front-runners for newcomer of the year. The junior-college transfer is averaging 13.2 points and 4.6 assists in conference games. He’s made 63 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Other contenders are Santa Clara freshman Kevin Foster (16.5 points), Pepperdine freshman Keion Bell (16.1) and LMU freshman Jarred DuBois (14.4). The Lions’ Vernon Teel is averaging 16.6 points, but he missed more than half the season with an injury.

Campbell has had a huge impact,” Few said. “He’s been so solid. He’s definitely one to consider.”

Saint Mary’s senior Diamon Simpson is the reigning defensive player of the year. He ranks high in steals (third, 1.73), rebounding (second, 8.8) and blocks (sixth, 1.27). Bryant is also a force at the defensive end.

“If you look at defensive rebounds and blocked shots, you have to look at John,” Reveno said. “And you have to consider Diamon, too.”

Gonzaga leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense (37.1 percent).

“Josh (Heytvelt) has played some really good defense over the course of the last 3-4 weeks,” Few said. “That’s really helped us as far as what we’re trying to do with other teams’ posts. He’s still got some tests looming for him.”

A quick look at the GU-LMU matchup:

GONZAGA 

Record: 19-5, 10-0 WCC

Coming up: Tonight vs. Loyola Marymount, 6; Saturday vs. Pepperdine, 8:30

Outlook: The Zags can reach a number of milestones this week. A win over LMU would clinch a ninth straight conference title and the No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament. That would tie Kentucky’s nine SEC titles from 1944-52 for fourth longest in Division I history. A victory would also give Gonzaga 12 straight 20-win seasons. Gonzaga, unbeaten in the WCC in 2004 and 2006, routed the Lions 93-60 last month in Los Angeles as six players scored between 9-18 points. LMU moved out of the WCC cellar by winning its first conference game, 65-57 over San Diego, last week. Freshman Jarred DuBois leads the Lions in scoring at 13.3. Kevin Young, who is averaging 8.7 points, had 21 points and 12 rebounds in the first meeting with Gonzaga.

Lastly, a note on the GU’s home season coming to an end….

And then there were three.

Gonzaga’s home schedule is down to three games, including tonight’s contest with Loyola Marymount and Saturday’s date with Pepperdine. South Carolina Upstate visits the McCarthey Athletic Center on March 3.

“I think about it sometimes and I don’t know where the time has gone,” senior forward Micah Downs said. “It seems like we just started the season not too long ago. We gotta make every one of them count, especially us seniors, and really cherish these last few games.”

Head coach Mark Few said the pace of each season varies.

“Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they grind by,” he said. “These seasons are journeys and your teams go through all sorts of experiences – positives, negatives, drastic downturns that have people panicking, days of exhilaration. You just try to keep riding the train to the end of the journey.”

With a victory tonight, the Zags (19-5, 10-0 WCC) can clinch the No. 1 seed for the WCC Tournament and no worse than a share of the conference championship.

“It would be really nice,” senior guard Jeremy Pargo said. “It’s always big to do things in front of the home crowd and give the fans a chance to see things in person.”

 


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Jim Meehan (@srjimm) Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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