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WCC WBB Preview: St. Mary’s

while not as disliked as the Men’s team, a foe nonetheless

As much as this site dislikes the Men’s team, myself included, the St. Mary’s (CA) Women’s team has not earned that ignominious reputation to date. After making the NCAA Tournament in 1999 and 2001, the Gaels haven’t finished with a winning record in the WCC since the 18-19 season and went thru two coaches last year. New Head Coach Jeff Cammon was brought in over the off-season after taking home Big West COY honors in his last campaign at Long Beach State that saw his team finish 23-10 (17-3) to finish second in the conference.

For his first year in the East Bay, the team was selected to finish 6th in the WCC Preseason Poll with 34 votes and senior Ali Bamberger was selected to the All-WCC Preseason Team after a dominant performance in last year’s campaign. At current time, the team has a 6-7 record with their most notable wins coming against UC Irvine and Montana State, although that’s tempered by a defeat against lowly St. Thomas (MN) at home. The other loses are likely more acceptable as falling to quality teams like Rice, California, and Washington should slot under the “quality loss” category.

Under Coach Cammon, the team looks to emulate their male counterpart by operating with a snail’s pace of 63.5 that ranks them last in the WCC by multiple points. As to be expected, this results in the offense only posting 60.1 points per game, although they do register 0.81 points per possession, which slots them in the middle of the WCC. For comparison, outside of Gonzaga’s astounding 0.99 number, no WCC team registers more than 0.84 points per possession. Whereas Pacific prefers to score within the three point arc, the St. Mary’s offense features more balance with 58.7% of their attempts coming from within and 27.5% coming from deep, although they only get a last ranked 13.8% of their points at the free throw line. One reason for their low free throw attempts could be a lack of ball movement leading to assists as the team only assists on 53.5% of their points, which ranks second to last in the WCC.

Despite only allowing 63.1 points per game, the team’s defensive numbers are not too impressive with just 31 blocks on the year (208th nationally) and just 98 steals (147th nationally). As with the Men’s team, I’d expect a lot of possessions ground down to the shot clock buzzer, although maybe not as many bad attempts given their 51.1% two point percentage (62nd nationally).

While Ali Bamberger posted 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a year ago, her numbers this year have taken a bit of a dive as she’s only averaging 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds this campaign. The slower game pace could be an explanation, she’s shooting two field goals less per game than last season, but she’s also converting at her worst efficiency since her freshman year at Washington with 42% overall (47% 2PA and 29.4% 3PA). Despite standing at 6’3”, expect her to launch her shots from both inside and outside the arc as she leads her team in both categories.

Freshman guard, Zeryhia Aokuso has stepped in for the departing Taycee Wedin and could be in for some conference awards come season’s end with her 9.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Despite her position, nearly all of Zeryhia’s points come from two-point range where she’s converting 52.6% of her attempts. She’ll be an interesting watch because with just 1.4 free throw attempts per game, I wonder where those attempts are coming from on the court. Given that she’s averaging only 20.7 minutes per game thus far, her per-40 averages paint a picture of a ball-dominant guard (30.4% usage rate) that will likely operate in the mid-range with an occasional deep ball thrown in for good measure.

Expect to see a lot of senior guard, Tayla Dalton, on the court in games against the Gaels as she leads her team in minutes with 31.2 and ranks third in scoring with 9 per game where she shoots 50.8% from two and 34.8% from three. She’s also a fairly important distributer with 2.3 assists per game and is one of only two players on the team with a positive A/T ratio, which explains their turnover rate of 20.8%.

As we saw in the New Mexico game, ground and pound opponents can be difficult for a Gonzaga team ready to score at will so do you think the Gaels have a chance against the Zags? What about the rest of the WCC? Can this team overachieve their Preseason Poll ranking? Hit the comments below and let me know your thoughts.