It isn’t always a simple case of “What have you done for me lately?” in college athletics.
Gonzaga University proved that Monday by placing two players - Lorenzo Rollins and Bakari Hendrix - on the All-West Coast Conference men’s basketball team, despite its 0-3 regular- season finish.
In addition, the Bulldogs produced one of the league’s top two rookies in point guard Matt Santangelo, who was named the WCC’s co-freshman of the year, along with Santa Clara sensation Brian Jones.
The postseason honors eased some of the sting of last weekend’s road losses to co-champions Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara. Those defeats knocked GU out of a first-place tie for the conference lead and all the way down to the No. 5 seed in the WCC tournament, which opens Saturday at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.
Rollins, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, tied for third in the league scoring race with an average of 15.4 points per game. He also averaged nearly five rebounds and two steals, but struggled late in the season and scored only 10 points in last weekend’s two losses.
The season unfolded in a much different fashion for Hendrix, a 6-8 junior forward, who scored only 21 points in GU’s first six game, before lighting it up against WCC opponents for averages of 14.8 points and seven rebounds a game - both team highs.
GU coach Dan Fitzgerald, who will retire at season’s end, seemed most excited about Santangelo’s freshman-of-the-year honor, however - especially since it was bestowed in the shadow of Jones, a nationally touted prep sensation who has already been the subject of a Sports Illustrated story. “In 18 years, we’ve only had one (other) freshman start - and it wasn’t (John) Stockton,” Fitzgerald said.
“Matt has really done a wonderful job, and he’s been a pleasure to coach.
“Those two kids that made Freshman-of-the-Year are going to have some of-the-Year are going to have some great battles over the next three seasons.”
Santangelo, despite being held scoreless in two of GU’s first three non-conference games, averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 assists.
Joining Rollins and Hendrix on the all-conference team were San Diego’s Brian Bruso, Santa Clara’s Marlon Garnett, Pepperdine’s Bryan Hill, Portland’s Greg Klosterman, Saint Mary’s Brad Millard and David Sivulich, San Francisco’s M.J. Nodilo and Hakeem Ward, and Loyola Marymount’s Jim Williamson.
Garnett was name the league’s player of the year, and coach-of-the-year honors went to Santa Clara’s Dick Davey.
Santa Clara, after tying with Saint Mary’s at 10-4 for the regular-season championship and picking up a share of its third title in as many years, earned the No. 1 seed into this weekend’s WCC tournament and a first-round matchup against No. 8- seeded and host Loyola Marymount.
That might sound like a cushy first-round assignment - unless the recent history of the tournament is factored in.
The No. 1 seed has not won the tournament since 1992, when Pepperdine edged fourth-seeded Gonzaga 73-70 in the championship game. In the four years since, the top seed has made it to the finals only once (in 1993 when Pepperdine lost to No. 3 Santa Clara).
Coincidentally, SCU has been the No. 1 seed the past two years, and in 1995 - at Toso Pavilion in Santa Clara - the Broncos lost their first-round matchup to No. 8-seeded LMU.
There were some obvious mind games being played Monday as WCC coaches discussed the up-coming league tournament during a conference call with members of the media.
One of the earliest innuendoes was launched by Gonzaga’s Dan Fitzgerald, who told listeners that his Bulldogs were going to have to “look at playing (first-round foe San Diego) a little bit differently” than in the first two games, which the Toreros swept.
The suggestion made USD coach Brad Holland laugh.
“Fitz has obviously been an excellent coach,” Holland surmised, “so he’s going to stay with things that have worked for him.
“It’s not like he’s all of a sudden not going to run the flex offense.”
Home, Yuck, Home?
For the first time in three years, Santa Clara will not host the WCC tournament, which Bronco guard Marlon Garnett strangely views as a positive.
According to Garnett, the last three tournaments have seemed “almost like regular home games.” And he is hoping that playing on the road at Loyola Marymount might make the tournament seem a bit more special.
Bronco coach Dick Davey said he understands where his senior guard is coming from, but he certainly hasn’t bought into his logic.
“If I had a choice of where to play, I’d play every game at home,” said Davey, who Broncos were 8-0 at home this season. “I don’t think there’s a coach in America in any spot who would prefer playing on the road, but we’ll see.
“I hope (playing at LMU) helps us in some unusual way.”
Santa Clara trifecta
The selection of Garnett as the WCC’s player of the year, marked the third season in a row that a Santa Clara player has captured the prestigious award. Bronco point guard Steve Nash was so honored the past two years… . Regular-season co-champion Saint Mary’s comes into the WCC tournament having won 20 of its last 25 games… . San Francisco’s nine conference wins are the most since the school restored its basketball program in 1985… . Davey has won three coach-of-the-year awards in only five seasons at Santa Clara - and all three have come on odd-numbered years (1993, ‘95 and ‘97)… . The WCC tournament host has never won the title and has lost in the first round seven of the last 10 years.
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