Suddenly, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s can feel BYU’s pain.
In the WCC’s second week of play, a season in which league officials decided to get competition going right after Christmas, the high-flying Zags and equally respected Gaels lost Thursday night to teams they were expected to run right by.
BYU’s Dave Rose understands how that feels after his Cougars opened league play on an extended series of road trips at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine and lost both games.
This new development draws up a shift in perspective about this league. The bottom is stronger; the top may not be as tough. It’s a conference whose teams shoot the 3 better than any in the land, and to compete you’d better have that in your arsenal.
Portland, a team that has worked hard to get on anybody’s radar, knocked off Gonzaga 82-73 in the Chiles Center on Thursday. Portland fans stormed the court in celebration.
And for good cause.
The Pilots' win not only upset the No. 22-ranked Zags, but ended Gonzaga’s 17-game win streak at Chiles Center. Gonzaga had won 20 straight over Portland. Now 14-3 overall and 4-1 in the WCC, the Zags saw a 22-game conference win streak snapped.
Reports out of Portland say the Pilots simply took it to Gonzaga. Like BYU experienced at Loyola Marymount and at Pepperdine, the home team was the aggressor early and late, threw around effective punches and waited out the clock for victory. Portland blocked eight Zag shots and never trailed.
“I always thought it might come when people weren’t expecting it,” eighth-year coach Eric Reveno, who had been winless in 14 tries against Gonzaga, said in a postgame TV interview. “I like my basketball team. I’m so proud of them to trust each other and the work they’ve put in. We were aggressive, we were confident, and we just took it in four-minute segments.”
The key here is that Portland made 8-of-14 3-point shots. Remember this figure because it’s becoming huge in this league.
At Saint Mary’s, on the Gaels' home court in Moraga, Jared Brownridge buried a 3-pointer with two seconds left to lift Santa Clara to the win. That Brownridge trey answered an apparent game-winning 3-pointer by Saint Mary’s' Stephen Holt with 23 seconds left.
In other words, it was a sharpshooter’s boat race.
Santa Clara made 8-of-12 shots from beyond the arc — or 66.7 percent from distance.
And that is why this league is getting so interesting.
Santa Clara outscored Saint Mary’s 24-12 from beyond the arc. Portland outscored Gonzaga 24-12 in a nine-point upset.
When the Cougars lost at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine in the league’s opening weekend, they were outscored 63 to 12 from 3-point range.
Bottom line? There are a lot of variables in basketball. You’ve got your field goal percentage, turnovers, rebounding, field goal defense, home court advantage, travel, free throw shooting and cheerleaders.
They all matter in their own realm.
But in the WCC this year, teams have to be capable of chasing points and those who trade twos for threes are trending as losers.
The average 3-point shooting percentage by WCC teams was an NCAA-leading 37 percent as this week unfolded.
This is why the move by Rose to find a way to get more outside shooting into his lineup looms big in recent wins over San Diego and Pepperdine. There are seven WCC teams that shoot better from distance than the Cougars according to statistics released after BYU’s win over San Diego a week ago.
The Cougars need Matt Carlino, a talented streak shooter, to find his rhythm.
But while he’s undergoing a rewiring of his confidence neurons, JC transfer Skyler Halford has been a solid aid.
Since inserting Halford into the starting lineup and giving him starter’s minutes, Halford has averaged 23 points in two games. He’s 18-of-40 from the field (45 percent) and 6-of-14 (42.8 percent) from 3-point range.
The league’s top 3-point artist is Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos (51-of-106 for 48 percent). The second-leading 3-point performer is Pangos’ teammate Gary Bell (30-of-63, 47 percent).
It doesn’t take a genius to see what is making the difference in the WCC.
BYU does not have any player in the WCC top-15 in 3-point field goals made, and at the beginning of the week the 15th-ranked guy in the league had 24. After Thursday, Haws has 21, Carlino 20 and Halford 17. The Cougars have generally found ways to win with transition conversions on the break.
But now they’re in league play where game winners are throwing in bombs.
It’s going to take outside shooters to compete.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.