What Big Three?
After San Diego defeated BYU 74-68 last Thursday, Toreros coach Bill Grier still referred to the Cougars as "one of the Big Three" in the West Coast Conference, along with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's.
Obviously, he was being too kind to BYU, which promptly was blown out at the Marriott Center on Saturday 99-87 by a San Francisco team that is still two games below .500 (11-13).
Grier went on to say that BYU is "one of the better programs" in the country.
"The environment they play in at home, in their arena, what they've done in the NCAA Tournament, the fact that they can recruit nationally because of their name. For us, this is a huge, huge win," Grier concluded.
It is true that BYU is one of five teams to win 25 games each of the past five years, along with Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, Duke and Kansas.
But to put the Cougars (8-4 WCC) on the level of the Gaels (10-1) and the Zags (10-0) this year is a stretch. It is really the Big Two in the WCC, as the conference tournament in Las Vegas next month will most likely show.
As for Grier's Toreros, currently in fourth place with a 6-5 league mark, two nights after upsetting BYU, they fell 74-64 at home to Saint Mary's after the Gaels pulled away in the final 10 minutes.
"I think fatigue was a big part of it," Grier told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Why we would have to play four games in eight days, I don't know, but we did."
Cal cools off Arizona
BYU isn't the only team in the West to employ an effective zone defense this season, although coach Dave Rose's zone was riddled Saturday night when San Francisco's shooters went 9 for 10 in the second half from beyond the 3-point line.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery used a zone to upset then-No. 7 Arizona 77-69 on Sunday night at the McKale Center.
"We haven't been very good at it this season … but it was effective this time," said Montgomery.
The Bears (14-9, 6-5 Pac-12) got the idea that a zone might work well against Arizona when they used it three nights earlier in a close 66-62 loss at Arizona State.
Spotlight on WCC Thursday
The West Coast Conference was hoping that Saint Mary's would crack the national rankings on Monday so Thursday's showdown in Moraga against No. 5 Gonzaga would pit a pair of ranked teams. But it wasn't to be; the Gaels (21-4) received votes in both the AP Top 25 poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll, but would be 29th, and 31st, respectively, if the polls extended that far.
Still, the 9 p.m. MST showdown should draw plenty of national attention, seeing as how the Gaels have won nine straight games since losing 83-78 in Spokane on Jan. 10.
Gonzaga (23-2) has lost just once since holding off the Gaels a month ago, 64-63 to No. 13 Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
More moments for Mountain West
With Gonzaga at No. 3/5 in the aforementioned polls and Arizona at No. 9 in both polls, the WCC and Pac-12 have the highest-ranked teams in the West, but the Mountain West Conference is still superior to either league top to bottom, with New Mexico at No. 19 and Colorado State at No. 24 in the AP poll. San Diego State, which has been plagued by injuries, is No. 22 in the Coaches Poll.
UNLV (18-6) is also right there in line for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth, providing the Rebels don't win the conference tournament on their home floor, giving the MWC five probable teams for the Big Dance.
Then there's the surprise team of the league Air Force. The Falcons are tied for fifth in the league with a 5-4 record, despite stumbling last week at New Mexico and Nevada, and can add the Rebels to the list of teams they've upset at Clune Arena this year on Wednesday.
Air Force surprised San Diego State 70-67 in Colorado Springs last week for the second straight year.