Curtis: Key games out West to yield answers

Jan 26 2011 - 3:18pm

Texas' win over Kansas, ending the Jayhawks' 69-game home winning streak, showed no team is unbeatable at home, but the venues for this week's two big-time games in the West are as tough as they get.

Gonzaga's intimidating McCarthey Athletic Center is the site of Thursday's pivotal game against first-place St. Mary's. A Gaels victory would drop the Bulldogs three games off the WCC lead, virtually ending their run of 10 straight regular-season titles.

However, the Bulldogs are 85-5 at the McCarthey Center, and St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett, despite all his success, has never won there.

The crowd, particularly the rowdy student section, is inches from the court, and the noise generated in the 6,000-seat arena can rock the building and fluster the most experienced opponents.

That claustrophobic advantage contrasts with the sheer vastness of BYU's Marriott Center. The No. 9 Cougars (19-1) are 84-4 in the building since Dave Rose became head coach in 2005.That is the setting into which No. 4 San Diego State steps Wednesday night in the biggest Mountain West Conference game ever.

The Aztecs (20-0) are the only team to beat Gonzaga at the McCarthey Center this season, and if San Diego State wins, talk of an undefeated season and a No. 1 ranking begins for the Aztecs, who had a losing conference record in 12 straight seasons before Steve Fisher took over in 1999.

Zero is the operative number for both pivotal games:

* Empty seats at the 22,700-seat Marriott Center for tonight's game.

* Teams that have entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV did it in 1991. If San Diego State gets by BYU, it has a chance.

* Division I players with a higher scoring average than BYU's Jimmer Fredette, who averages 26.7 points, has scored more than 40 points twice the past three games and was named Mountain West Player of the Week for the fourth consecutive week.

* NCAA Tournament wins by San Diego State, which is 0-6 in that event.

* Times San Diego State was ranked in any major poll before being No. 25 in this season's preseason Associated Press poll.

* Conference wins by San Diego State in 1999-2000, the Aztecs' first season under Fisher.

* Former San Diego State players you probably could name. Perhaps Michael Cage, a first-round NBA draft pick in 1984, or Tony Gwynn, a 10th-round NBA draft pick in 1981 who reportedly opted for baseball.

* Division I teams riding a streak of consecutive regular-season conference titles longer than Gonzaga's 10 in a row. It's three shy of UCLA's record of 13 (1967-79).

St. Mary's wins at Gonzaga the past 16 seasons, including a 19-point loss at Gonzaga last year, even though the Gaels beat Gonzaga in the WCC tournament, got to the third round of the NCAA Tournament and finished 28-6.

Things won't get easier for St. Mary's next season when BYU joins the WCC and the Gaels will have to play games at both the McCarthey Center and the Marriott Center.

BEST OF THE WEST

1. San Diego State (20-0) -- One of two unbeaten teams, but no first-place votes in either poll.

2. BYU (19-1) -- 8-0 at home.

3. Washington (15-4) -- Isaiah Thomas averaging 9.1 assists the past seven games.

4. St. Mary's (17-3) -- Gaels coming off their two worst games of the season.

5. Utah State (18-2) -- Only losses are to No. 9 BYU and No. 21 Georgetown.

 

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