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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / 2000-2001 PREVIEW | West Coast
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Duplicating Stellar Season Will Be a Difficult Task

November 16, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even the basketball establishment--which to the West Coast Conference means anybody east of Spokane, Wash.--took note.

Five WCC teams won at least 19 games last season. Two made the NCAA tournament and both advanced past the first round.

Yet continued respect will be difficult to attain.

Gonzaga has only one starter back. The Bulldogs defeated Louisville and St. John's in the NCAA tournament last season and made an astonishing run to the round of eight in 1999. But Richie Frahm and Matt Santangelo--names etched in March Madness lore--are gone.

That leaves only forward Casey Calvary, who many believe is the WCC's top player. He likes the reinforcements, but in November doesn't everybody?

"We have some new faces this year, and those new faces are awesome," Calvary said.

Pepperdine has nearly as many newcomers, and most are very young. Coach Jan van Breda Kolff brought in six freshmen to fuel his team's fast pace.

But the starters--who include Wooden Award nominee Brandon Armstrong--are experienced enough to boost the Waves into the role of favorite. Last season's convincing first-round NCAA tournament victory over Indiana provided a glimpse of what Pepperdine is capable of when the shots are falling.

When they aren't, the WCC can be unforgiving.

"A lot of teams are bringing back their best players and nearly everybody has helped themselves," van Breda Kolff said. "Last season proved the WCC is a strong mid-major conference. I think this year should be more of the same."

San Diego and San Francisco are back nearly intact and 20 victories are within reach. Santa Clara won 19 games last season but appears to be slipping.

Portland will struggle to reach .500. St. Mary's and Loyola Marymount will struggle every time out.

A look at the teams, excluding Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine:

GONZAGA

* Coach: Mark Few.

* 1999-2000 record: 26-9, 11-3.

* Returning starters: One.

* Top players: Rugged forward Casey Calvary averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Like Calvary, Mark Spink, Zach Gourde and redshirt freshman Jay Sherrell are 6-foot-8 forwards with a physical style. Swingman Alex Hernandez, a junior college transfer, could start. The point guard will be Dan Dickau, a transfer from Washington. Freshman guard Blake Stepp will contribute right away.

* Outlook: Returning to the Sweet 16 will require even more magic than the Bulldogs displayed the last two seasons. Top scorer Richie Frahm and point guard Matt Santangelo will be difficult to replace.

PORTLAND

* Coach: Rob Chavez.

* 1999-2000 record: 10-18, 4-10.

* Returning starters: Four.

* Top players: Guards Ryan Jones (14.4 points) and Travis Andrews (8.8 points, 4.0 assists) form one of the WCC's best backcourt tandems. Bryan Mills is a capable reserve. Forward Jorge Rochin, a junior college transfer, and freshman guard Casey Frandsen are highly regarded newcomers.

* Outlook: The Pilots were pushed around inside last season. Chavez recruited some size, which will be needed on defense and to complement Jones' outside shooting.

ST. MARY'S

* Coach: Dave Bollwinkel.

* 1999-2000 record: 8-19, 3-11.

* Returning starters: One.

* Top players: Guard Frankie King averaged only 3.8 points but had 30 steals. Sophomores Jovan Harris, a guard, and Ross Benson, a 6-10 forward, will be counted on for scoring.

* Outlook: The team's three top scorers are gone, among them injury-prone 7-3 center Brad Millard. The Gaels will have difficulty beating anybody except Loyola Marymount.

SAN DIEGO

* Coach: Brad Holland.

* 1999-2000 record: 20-9, 10-4.

* Returning starters: Five.

* Top players: Guard Andre Laws averaged 12.9 points and is one of the WCC's best perimeter players. Forward Cameron Rigby and Dana White, a savvy point guard, each averaged nine points. Center Tyler Field averaged 7.1 rebounds. Ryan Hegerty, a 6-10 center, is the top newcomer.

* Outlook: Last season the Toreros were the surprise of the WCC. With 12 players back, including every starter, it will be no surprise if they contend for the title again.

SAN FRANCISCO

* Coach: Philip Mathews.

* 1999-2000 record: 19-9, 7-7.

* Returning starters: Four.

* Top players: Darrell Tucker, a 6-9 sophomore, was the first freshman to lead the WCC in scoring. LyRyan Russell is a playmaker. Seven-foot center Hondre Brewer had 34 blocks in limited playing time. Tayo Akinsete, a junior college transfer, and freshman point guard Jason Gaines have shined in the exhibition season.

* Outlook: The challenge is to make up for the loss of Kenyon Jones, WCC player of the year. Tucker, et al, have the talent to do it.

SANTA CLARA

* Coach: Dick Davey.

* 1999-2000 record: 19-12, 9-5.

* Returning starters: Two.

* Top players: Guard Brian Jones, a 6-3 senior, averaged 13.2 points and is capable of carrying the team. Junior forward Justin Holbrook can score. Newcomers Kyle Bailey, Jason Westphal and Jason Morrissette can step in right away.

* Outlook: The Broncos are solid, but will have difficulty keeping up in a talent-filled conference.

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