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Gonzaga guard Bouldin MVP favorite with Bryant looming

The Spokesman-Review Junior guard Matt Bouldin is a key reason Gonzaga has won its first 10 games in the WCC, making him a leading candidate for conference player of the year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokesman-Review Junior guard Matt Bouldin is a key reason Gonzaga has won its first 10 games in the WCC, making him a leading candidate for conference player of the year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

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 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.”

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