Gonzaga Men Picked To Win WCC Hoops Title
July 30, 2003
SAN BRUNO, Calif. - Three-time defending West Coast Conference regular-season men's basketball champion Gonzaga University is the odds-on favorite to make it four in a row in the coaches pre-season poll released today.
The Bulldogs received seven first-place votes for 49 points. Saint Mary's College garnered the other first-place vote and tied with Pepperdine University for second place with 37 points. The University of San Francisco received 32 points for fourth, followed by defending WCC Tournament champion University of San Diego (23 points), Santa Clara University (22), the University of Portland (13) and Loyola Marymount University (11).
Gonzaga went 12-2 in league last season and posted a 24-9 overall record, marking the sixth straight season the Zags have won 24 or more games. The Bulldogs return a league-high three first team all-conference players including 2003 WCC Player of the Year Blake Stepp and forwards Ronny Turiaf and Cory Violette. In conference play Stepp led the league in scoring (20.6 ppg), assists (6.0 apg) and 3-pointers made (3.86/game) to become the third straight Player of the YEar from the Bulldogs. Stepp is currently in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Turiaf had a breakout season in 2003 while more than doubling his scoring average (7.3 ppg to 15.6 ppg) from 2002. The 6-10 forward shot 51.9 percent from the field and went 151-for-291 from the free throw line.
In 2003, the Gaels made a six-win jump to a 15-15 record, which was SMC's best-record since winning the league in 1997 (23-8). SMC also made its second straight appearance in the WCC tournament semifinals, defeating Santa Clara and Pepperdine before falling to Gonzaga in the semis. Sophomore Daniel Kickert was a major reason for the Gaels' improvement as the 6-10 forward gave the Gaels a frontcourt scoring threat averaging a team-high 12.7 ppg.
Pepperdine lost two projected starters and their sixth man due to injury early last season but still managed to finish fourth in league play and earn a bye into the second round of the WCC tournament. The Waves' backcourt features the last two WCC Freshmen of Year in Alex Acker (2003) and Terrance Johnson (2002). Both Johnson (16.1 ppg) and Acker (13.9 ppg) return after averaging a combined 30 points against conference foes. They are the second highest scoring tandem returning to the WCC this season, behind Gonzaga's Blake (20.6 ppg) and Turiaf (15.4 ppg).
San Francisco has the task of replacing 1,800-plus scorer Darrell Tucker. John Cox will try to fill the void after averaging 18.6 ppg in WCC play last season.
Preseason Coaches Poll
(First-Place Votes in Parentheses)
1. Gonzaga (7) 49
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