By John Crumpacker
As anyone who has ever climbed a mountain, or even a very steep hill, or ridden an elevator to the uppermost floor of a skyscraper can attest, it’s intense at the top. The view is pretty sweet, too.
So it is with the top level of the West Coast Conference women’s standings as teams ready themselves for the conference tournament in Las Vegas starting Thursday. The top four teams are well clear of their underlings after a competitive regular season that saw BYU win its first WCC title with a 16-2 record, 24-5 overall, and are looking down on everyone else -- figuratively speaking of course.
Second seed Saint Mary’s (23-6) held firm at 14-4 while San Diego (23-6) earned the No. 3 seed at 13-5 despite losing three of its final five games. The fourth seed goes to Santa Clara with a 13-5 mark, 22-7 overall.
To the top two teams, BYU and Saint Mary’s, goes a day of rest as the Cougars and Gaels do not play at the Orleans Arena until Friday. BYU faces the winner of the 8-9 game between Pacific (6-12) and Pepperdine (2-16) and will be heavily favored whoever takes that scrap. Saint Mary’s gets the 7/10 winner, either Loyola Marymount (6-12) or Portland (1-17).
I’ll go out on a very stout, short limb and predict Pacific over Pepperdine and LMU over Portland on Thursday followed on Friday with quarterfinal wins by BYU and Saint Mary’s. Total chalk here.
The other Thursday games are No. 3 San Diego vs. No. 6 San Francisco and No. 4 Santa Clara vs. No. 6 Gonzaga. Much tougher to predict these outcomes, but that won’t stop me from trying. I’ll go with a slight upset and pick USF over San Diego, which enters the tourney on something of a slump. Now watch the Toreros’ twins, Malina and Maya Hood, prove me wrong. I’ll go with the Broncos over the Zags in the other game.
Thus, my bracket has BYU-Santa Clara in one semifinal on Monday and Saint Mary’s-USF in the other. BYU’s Lexi Rydalch and Kalani Purcell are too much for the Broncos and they help the Cougars advance to the championship game on Tuesday … against Saint Mary’s, which ends the Dons’ season in the semis.
BYU and Saint Mary’s were the two best teams in the regular season and there’s really no reason to think they won’t meet for the championship. BYU’s excellent season will culminate with a WCC tournament title to go with its regular season title and it’s on to the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels, along with San Diego and Santa Clara, will have to wait to see if the NCAA comes calling.
Everybody loves honors
It’s that time of year. Here are the players and the coach who distinguished themselves among their peers this season:
Player of the Year – BYU’s prolific Lexi Rydalch. The WCC’s career scoring leader this season averaged 24.1 points per game and also contributed 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per.
Defensive Player of the Year – San Diego’s Maya Hood. The twin sister of teammate Malina, Maya had 2.5 steals and 5.1 defensive rebounds per game to go with 14.4 points and 9.3 overall rebounds per contest.
Newcomer of the Year – Junior Kalani Purcell was a dominant force in the WCC with 11.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. She is the only female player in the WCC to average a double-double per game this season.
Coach of the Year – BYU’s Jeff Judkins notched his 10th season of at least 20 wins in Provo as his Cougars won their first WCC regular season title in program history.
Leaders in the clubhouse
Here are the team and individual leaders in the most significant categories:
Team scoring – Saint Mary’s, 74.7
Team defense – Santa Clara, 57.4
Scoring margin – San Diego, 10.0
Scoring – Rydalch, 24.1
Rebounds – Purcell, 12.5
Assists – Purcell, 4.8
Steals – Maya Hood, 2.5 (Twin sister Malina had 2.4 per game)
Blocks – Cheyanne Wallace, LMU, 2.1
Assists-turnovers ratio – Kylie Maeda, BYU, 2.2
Field goal percentage – Stella Beck, Saint Mary’s, .575
3-point percentage – Kylie Maeda, BYU, .455
Free throw percentage – Lauren Nicholson, Saint Mary’s, .884
Follow the three dots
Fierce rebounder Purcell had high games of 24 vs. Pepperdine and 21 vs. Utah Valley. … She also led the WCC with 16 double-doubles this season. … At San Francisco, Taylor Proctor was named to her second All-WCC first team while Zhane Dikes made the second team. Both are seniors who combined to average 32.0 points and 15.9 rebounds per game. Said coach Jennifer Azzi, “I think both Taylor and Z are having great senior seasons, and I’m glad to see them get recognized by the WCC. They really put the program on their backs these four years and want to win and finish their college careers strong.’’ … Who do you like for WCC Player of the Year in 2016-17? It’s hard to imagine BYU’s Purcell and Pepperdine freshman Erica Ogwumike not being in the conversation. Ogwumike was the only freshman named first team All-WCC after contributing 18.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game for the Waves. … BYU’s Rydalch needs 54 points in her remaining games to pass the late Hank Gathers as the WCC’s career scoring leader, male or female. … Portland’s lone WCC win came at the expense of Pepperdine, marking the sixth straight season the Pilots beat the Waves at home. … USF’s Davis has logged the most career minutes of any USF basketball player, regardless of gender. … Although Pepperdine won but six games this season, it did increase its scoring average with each successive quarter: 13.4, 15.3, 16.6 and 18.1. … Santa Clara’s average of 13.1 steals per game is third best in the NCAA.