Pac-12 power resides in Bay Area

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Pac-12 power resides in Bay Area

With nearly a month of the non-conference season behind us, it's very possible that the top-two teams in the Pac-12 make their home in the Bay Area. Cal, a preseason favorite by many pundits, is expected, but Stanford is the leagues surprise team to date.

If the Cardinal and Bears do end up at the top of the leagues standings, it may not seem all that newsworthy. Yet looking back the last two decades, it quickly becomes clear how rare it is for the Pac-12 basketball power to reside up north.

Stanford and Cal have never finished 1-2 in the conference basketball standings, and the eras of where both programs have even been "good" at the same time are few and far between.

Only four times in the last 20 years have both programs made the NCAA Tournament in the same year (three of those years coming back-to-back-to back in 2000-2003).

This year appears to be different, partly due to the respective strength of both teams and even moreso by the relative softness of many other programs in the league. Early returns show that Cal and Stanford need only to beat out Arizona and Washington at the top of the league standings, and even those teams have their share of weaknesses. (Not buying into Oregon States early 6-1 record yet).

The Bears are not a complete team, the way many Pac-12 title contenders from most years are, but that might not be needed this year. What the Bears lack in experienced frontcourt depth and overall team athleticism, they make up for with a triangle of effective, balanced scorers in senior guard Jorge Guttierez, sophomore wing Allen Crabbe and senior forward Harper Kamp. Transfer guard Justin Cobbs is quickly emerging as another scoring option for the Bears, and is helping Mike Montgomery's team through the stretch without suspended post player Richard Solomon.

Without Solomon, the Bears went small on the road against a nationally ranked SDSU team, starting four guards. Cal jumped out to a 6-0 lead and stood toe to toe for the duration with the Aztecs on the road, before losing a close contest in a hostile environment. Freshman David Kravish is getting valuable experience for the Bears in this stretch up front. All in all, Cal likely comes out of their non-conference schedule 10-3, and a favorite to win the league.

Down on the Farm, the Cardinal have quietly put together the most impressive non-conference resume to date in the league, doing so with a very balanced scoring attack (five players averaging between seven and 12 ppg). Stanford is deep both on the perimeter and up front, they are quick, and they are much better defensively than they have been the last few years.

At 8-1 with wins over Big 12 member Oklahoma State and ACC member NC State, and their only loss a close defeat in the Garden against Syracuse in a game they led until the final minutes, the Cardinal are in great position. They will likely head into Pac 12 play 11-1, with the best record in the league.

Circle Jan. 29 (at Haas Pavilion) and March 4 (at Maples) on your calendars. These games, conveniently the last game on both rounds of conference play, might have bigger meaning this year than ever before.

BAY AREA TEAM OF THE WEEK: Stanford. The Cardinal (8-1) are rolling heading into their two week-long break for finals. A blowout road win at Seattle last Thursday was nice, but the 12 point second half comeback against NC State Sunday was their best win of the year. Stanford has the best record in the Pac 12, three winnable home games before league play begins, and are in prime position for their first Tournament berth since 2007-2008.

BAY AREA TEAM OF THE WEAK: UC Davis. First year coach Jim Les knew he had his hands full this year, but their home game against Idaho Saturday was their best chance for a Division I win heading into Big West play. They lost by 20. It now gets ugly Davis with four road games to end non-conference play, meaning they will likely be 0-11 in Division I games heading into the New Year.
BAY AREA PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Santa Claras junior guard Kevin Foster wins his first weekly award, with a 20 point, 7 rebound, 6 assist performance in Santa Claras 71-58 win over CSUN. Foster was 4-9 from 3-pt land, bringing his overall career made 3s total to a whopping 272, the most ever for a Bay Area college player (ex-SCU great Steve Nash had the previous high at 263). The win moved the Broncos to 5-2 overall, with some nice wins under their belt, and a winnable game at Washington State Sunday up next.

GAME OF THE WEEK (that was): Cals 64-63 loss to San Diego State was a hard fought contest between two quality teams. The Bears were down two late but failed to get a rebound on a miss from the Aztecs and were forced to foul, so never had a last possession to tie or win the game. No team led by more than five points in the second half, and fellow sophomores Allen Crabbe (23 points) and Justin Cobbs (17 points), had 40 of Cals 63 points.

GAME (s) OF THE WEEK (ahead): Light slate this week with many Bay Area teams being in final exams, so Santa Clara at Washington State Sunday gets the nod as the game of the week. The Broncos will try for their third straight win (and five out of six), and with it give the WCC a fifth win over the Pac 12. Cal plays tonight at home against SJSU, trying for their 19th straight win without a loss versus the Spartans, in Berkeley.

NOTABLE: USF won another close game last week at Montana, 65-62. That is 11 wins by three points or less (or overtime) this year or last, against only two losses. Thats four more wins than anyone in the nation has in the same stretch.

QUOTABLE: USF head coach Rex Walters after his teams 65-62 win at Montana last week: "This is a tough place to win. It's a tough flight coming into here. There was a lot of adversity. We had to fight for everything tonight. The guys were on edge and wanted to come here and get a win."

BY THE NUMBERS: The Mountain West certainly has had the best resume of any conference in the west thus far. Their overall league record is 52-14, and they are 4 in early conference power ratings. Every team in the league is over .500.

Dan Shell has been an assistantcoach at the Division I level at three different institutions includingSaint Mary's College. He currently works for IMG College, whichprovides sports marketing services for Division I universities andconferences. Have questions or comments? Emailhim here.

Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

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Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

PROVO, Utah — Saint Mary's knows all about the raucous atmosphere at BYU. The Gaels hadn't won in Provo since 2013 and had only come out on top in three of their previous 12 trips.

Make it four out of 13.

Calvin Hermanson scored 17 points and No. 22 Saint Mary's cruised to a 70-57 victory over BYU on Saturday night, snapping a three-game road losing streak to its West Coast Conference rival.

"It's definitely one of the tougher places to play for us," Hermanson said. "Coming in here we know it's a huge crowd and we know they can get riled up on any 3-point shot or any run they make. We wanted to try to limit their runs and their big plays.

"The second half was pretty unbelievable how quiet the crowd was. It felt great for us."

With two games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Gaels (24-3, 14-2) clinched a second-place finish in the conference standings behind top-ranked and undefeated Gonzaga.

Saint Mary's controlled the game most of the night, riding its staunch defense on one end and running efficient offense on the other. The Gaels were able to get to the rim consistently, but also knocked down 10 3-pointers.

BYU (19-10, 10-6) shot 39.7 percent from the field and connected on four 3s.

Evan Fitzner had 15 points for Saint Mary's, including 11 in the second half.

"We didn't turn the ball over and we shot the ball well," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said, "and were able to get some separation and then it made it tough on them. We kind of just wore them out after that.

"We're a little different team with Fitzner out there. He spaces the floor," Bennett added. "We just play a little different with Fitzner out there versus Jock (Landale). It's nice to have a Plan A and Plan B."

Saint Mary's took a 41-30 lead into halftime thanks to Hermanson's hot shooting and plenty of that trademark defense. The Gaels began the day ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, then held the Cougars to 37.9 percent shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes.

Saint Mary's shot 57.1 percent at the other end, including a 3-for-4 effort from Hermanson from behind the arc.

"I feel like we're better than we showed tonight," BYU guard TJ Haws said. "That team made a lot of runs on us. Tough defensive and offensive team. Very poised and disciplined.

"I want our team to just fight. When they punch us in the face, I want us to punch them right back."

BYU kept Landale under control in the half — and in foul trouble throughout — but Saint Mary's scored 22 of its 41 first-half points in the paint.

Eric Mika had 18 points for BYU, and Yoeli Childs added 13.

"The key to the game was that they were comfortable the entire time in our gym," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "That's on us. We need to be ahead. We need to get them to speed up a little bit because they're a little bit uncomfortable.

"But the game went pretty much exactly how they wanted it to go and we couldn't flip it. We couldn't get on top."

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary's: The Gaels will be the No. 2 seed in the WCC tournament. No. 1 Gonzaga secured the regular-season title Saturday with a win over Pacific. An early December defeat to UT-Arlington is the Gaels' only bad loss this season, with the other two coming against Gonzaga.

BYU: The Cougars likely needed a win against the No. 22 team in the country to make an argument for the NCAA Tournament off their regular-season credentials. BYU has lost all three games against ranked opponents by double digits, including to Saint Mary's twice, and doesn't have a signature win. The Cougars get one last chance against Gonzaga next Saturday.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

No. 22 Saint Mary's might find itself moving up a bit after No. 17 Florida State and No. 21 South Carolina lost on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary's: Travel to face Pepperdine on Thursday.

BYU: Play at Portland on Thursday.

Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

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Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

BOX SCORE

STANFORD -- Dorian Pickens scored 23 points, Reid Travis had 19 with nine rebounds and Stanford held on to beat California 73-68 on Friday night.

Marcus Allen added 11 points for the Cardinal, who overcame an early 12-point deficit to beat their cross-bay rivals for the 21st time in the last 24 meetings between the two teams at Maples Pavilion.

Stanford (13-13, 5-9 Pac-12) won for only the second time in seven games and split the season series with California.

Pickens had nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as part of a 20-5 run in the second half when the Cardinal pulled away.

After California closed within 62-56 on Grant Mullins' 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining, Allen made two free throws and Pickens scored on a jumper from the free-throw line as he was falling backward onto the court.

Jabari Bird scored 23 points and set a career-high with seven 3s for the Golden Bears (18-8, 9-5). Ivan Rabb added 16 points and 13 rebounds after being slowed by foul trouble in the first half.