Saint Mary’s (7-2) dominated Denver (2-7) in every facet of the game last night, shooting 60% to Denver’s 38%, overwhelming the Pioneers on the boards 37-14, outscoring them 40-20 in the paint, and sticking DU with its second-worst offensive (0.828) and worst defensive (1.294) efficiency nights of the season. The end result was even worse than Vegas thought it would be, and in fact, could have been worse still: Denver trailed by 35 points, 75-40, with 2 1/2 minutes left, before finishing the game on a 7-2 run.
The game was played in front of 2,662 at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, California, including about 50 friends and family of hometown boy Brian Stafford. But it was not a happy homecoming, to say the least. St. Mary’s jumped out to a 11-2 lead in the game’s first five minutes, and then, after letting Denver pull within 11-6, essentially put the game away, going up 23-9 at the 8:42 mark and 38-14 at the 2:39 mark. This one was over almost before it began.
The Gaels’ thorough preparation showed — though even that may not have matted much. Denver was simply outclassed by a superior squad, one of the best mid-majors in the country playing at the top of its game. “St. Mary’s is a very good team, and they outplayed us tonight,” DU head coach Joe Scott said afterward, in perhaps the understatement of the season.
The question now will be whether the Pioneers can pick themselves up and recover from the shellacking in time for Saturday’s home date with a WCC rival of the Gaels, the Portland Pilots. On paper, this is another tough — but less suicidal — matchup for Denver, and although a win might be a tall order, one would hope DU can at least keep it competitive.
After that, the schedule starts to get much easier — but will a potential 2-8 start, punctuated by last night’s “Moraga Massacre,” have sapped too much of DU’s confidence? Will Joe Scott’s brutal non-conference scheduling philosophy pay dividends down the road, or will it backfire? We shall see.
P.S. I’m no bracketologist, but given the way they’ve started the season, one suspects that — barring a real run of regular-season dominance in Sun Belt play, which would require flipping a switch shockingly fast in the next few weeks — any possible run at the Sun Belt tournament title in Little Rock this March would have Denver battling not for a standard Big Dance auto-bid, but instead for a spot in the inaugural “First Four,” a.k.a. “Quad-PIG,” in Dayton.