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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1998-99 | WEST COAST CONFERENCE

Coaches Don't Expect Gonzaga to Stray From Winning Ways

November 19, 1998|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gonzaga ended the 1997-98 season with 156 victories in the decade--more than any other team in the West Coast Conference.

And WCC coaches seem certain that the defending regular-season champion Bulldogs will continue their winning ways. Gonzaga was picked to win the conference title over Pepperdine, St. Mary's and Santa Clara.

Gonzaga, which last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 1995, failed to gain the WCC's automatic berth last season when it lost to San Francisco in the championship game of the conference tournament.

Gonzaga opened the season last week by playing Kansas tough before losing at Lawrence, Kan. That game, along with a matchup next week against Washington State and an early-December game against Washington, should go a long way toward preparing the Bulldogs for the start of WCC play Jan. 7 against Loyola Marymount.

A look at the WCC teams in alphabetical order, excluding Pepperdine and Loyola:

GONZAGA

Coach: Dan Monson.

1997-98 finish: 24-10, 10-4 (first); lost in conference tournament final; lost to Hawaii in second round of NIT.

Returning starters: Four.

Top players: Matt Santangelo, Richie Frahm.

Outlook: Bakari Hendrix, who led the WCC in scoring and was the conference's player of the year, is no longer playing for the Bulldogs, but five of the top six scorers from last season are back, among them junior guards Santangelo and Frahm. Santangelo, who is strong off the drive, averaged 16.1 points. Frahm, a dangerous outside shooter, averaged 12. Sophomore forward Casey Calvary and junior center Axel Dench lead the front court.

PORTLAND

Coach: Rob Chavez.

1997-98 finish: 14-13, 7-7 (tied for fourth), lost in first round of conference tournament.

Returning starters: Three.

Top players: Troy Collins, Jason Franklin.

Outlook: The Pilots have question marks at point guard, where they must replace Dionn Holton, and in the front court, where they lack size and strength. Portland is the only team in the conference without a player who weighs more than 225 pounds. Franklin, a junior guard, averaged 10 points last season and Collins, a junior forward, averaged 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. Forward Jimmie Rainwater is the only returning senior starter for a team that lost six of its last seven games last season.

ST. MARY'S

Coach: Dave Bollwinkel.

1997-98 finish: 12-15, 7-7 (tied for fourth); lost in first round of conference tournament.

Returning starters: Four.

Top Players: Brad Millard, Eric Schraeder.

Outlook: Millard, a 7-foot-3 junior who averaged 12.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and three blocks in 1996-97, sat out all but two games last season because of a broken foot and suffered a stress fracture during rehabilitation that will sideline him until at least late December. If the Gaels get Millard back, he will team with Schraeder to give St. Mary's the most formidable front line in the conference. Schraeder averaged 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds last season.

SANTA CLARA

Coach: Dick Davey.

1997-98 finish: 18-10, 8-6 (third); lost in semifinals of conference tournament.

Returning starters: Three.

Top players: Brian Jones, Todd Wuschnig.

Outlook: Jones, an all-conference guard, injured his knee during the summer and is not expected to return until late December. That's bad news for the Broncos, who will miss the 15.6 points he averaged last season. Junior forwards Wuschnig and Josh Greer will try to carry the load until Jones returns. The Broncos visit UCLA for the Bruins' opener tonight.

SAN DIEGO

Coach: Brad Holland.

1997-98 finish: 14-14, 5-9 (seventh); lost in semifinals of conference tournament.

Returning starters: Two.

Top players: Ryan Williams, Brock Jacobsen.

Outlook: The Toreros are young and will rely on Williams, a 6-6 senior forward who averaged 15.1 points last season, to pick up the slack left by the departure of sharpshooter Brian Miles. Jacobsen, a 6-5 senior guard, is looking to regain his form of two years ago after averaging 7.3 points last year. Australian Cameron Rigby, a 6-7 transfer from Bradley, gives the Toreros another perimeter threat.

SAN FRANCISCO

Coach: Phil Mathews

1997-98 record: 19-11, 7-7 (tied for fourth); conference tournament champion; lost to Utah in first round of NCAA tournament.

Returning starters: Two.

Top players: Ali Thomas, Gerald Zimmerman.

Outlook: The Dons are coming off a season in which they made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1982. Thomas, a 6-2 guard, was the WCC freshman of the year after averaging 11.1 points. Zimmerman, a 6-6 senior swingman, missed last season because of a knee injury.

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