Barring an unexpected upstart team, the West Coast Conference men's title race will be decided by Gonzaga and Pepperdine. The two meet Saturday in Spokane. The University of Portland's WCC schedule gets under way against Pepperdine on Thursday at the Chiles Center.

Gonzaga went 9-5 in non-league games. The Bulldogs lost by one point to Indiana and St. Joseph's and by eight to Kentucky. The other losses were to Stanford and Georgia.

The Bulldogs are led by guard Blake Stepp, who is averaging 16 points and six assists per game. Ronny Turiaf (16 points per game) and Cory Violette (12 points, eight rebounds per game) also have played well, but veteran Zach Gourde has not, shooting under 40 percent from the field. Still, the Bulldogs probably have the WCC's best all-around team, especially up front.

Pepperdine, which went 8-5 in non-league with six road wins in a row, has played without three key players Ñ Will Kimble, Glen McGowan and Devin Montgomery Ñ during the preseason. Kimble's career probably has ended because of a heart condition, while McGowan has blood clots and Montgomery a broken thumb.

Still, the Waves are athletic enough to average 82.5 points in their absence, led by Jimmy Miggins (17 points per game), and Portland's Boomer Brazzle. Freshman Alex Acker has been a bonus.

San Diego and Santa Clara could challenge the top two, although that's not likely. Other top players in the league include San Diego's Jason Blair and San Francisco's Darrell Tucker, the WCC's top all-around player, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds per game.

The Portland Pilots entered Monday's game at Montana State at 6-6. Casey Frandsen leads UP in scoring at 12 points per game.

ÑÊJason Vondersmith

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