By John Crumpacker
#WCCHoops Columnist John Crumpacker is onsite at the 2016 West Coast Conference Basketball Championships and will be providing exclusive content throughout from the men’s and women’s tournaments.
#WCCHOOPS CHAMPIONSHIPS – DAY ONE
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH LMU'S ANDEE VELASCO
LAS VEGAS -- When Loyola Marymount coach Charity Elliott said her team was playing for a “higher purpose’’ at the West Coast Conference Tournament, she wasn’t exaggerating. Not in the least. Less than two weeks ago, one of her players, freshman guard Andee Velasco, informed Elliott that her mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
In a show of support for the mother of Andee and her sister Bianca, also a freshman guard on the LMU roster, the Lions are wearing purple ribbons in their hair. Andee had season-highs in points, 23, and assists, 8, as LMU defeated Portland 85-72 in an opening-round game on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals on Friday against No. 2 Saint Mary’s.
Intending to go for a lighter touch in a five-question interview of Andee Velasco, I adjusted accordingly as I spoke to her after the Portland game.
Q: Is it hard to concentrate on basketball with what’s going on with your mother?
A: It’s made me more focused and driven for a purpose, for my mom, to represent her and do well.
Q: After you told the team about your mother’s diagnosis, how have your teammates responded?
A: It’s made us closer in a way. We have one more thing to play for. It’s something special when you’re playing for something bigger than yourself.
Q: Do you have any family here at the Orleans Arena?
A: No, just me and my sister.
Q: On that subject, you and Bianca are both 5-foot-8 freshmen. Are you identical twins?
A: No, we’re one year apart. We’re not even twins. In middle school I was held back for a year because of medical conditions. I’m a year older.
Q: Your team is 11-19. Saint Mary’s is 23-6. What’s your approach to playing the Gaels?
A: It’s how we execute as a team. We need everyone to show up and be present and consistent. Every person matters on this team.
SESSION TWO DIGEST
With a record of 9-9 in conference play, the San Francisco women showed themselves to be capable of just about anything, with an equal number of highs and lows during the 2015-16 season. Coach Jennifer Azzi’s team started out losing five of its first six games before finally waking up in mid-January.
A funny thing happens to the Dons come tournament time, however. They suddenly get serious.
“We have some unfinished business, that’s for sure,’’ said USF’s All-WCC forward, Taylor Proctor.
That business got going on Thursday in a quarterfinal game against No. 3 seed San Diego. The Dons, seeded sixth, extended the Toreros to overtime at the Orleans Arena and won 84-80 to advance to Monday’s semifinals vs. the Saint Mary’s-Loyola Marymount winner.
As the No. 6 seed a year ago, USF dispatched No. 3 Pacific and No. 2 San Diego to reach the championship game, where it lost to BYU.
“We’re going to get after it,’’ Proctor said. “We’re not through with this tournament. We’re going to work on the things we didn’t do well tonight. We’re definitely here for the championship.’’
Proctor got the Dons a step closer to a championship when she banked in an improbable 3-point shot with less than a second left in regulation to send the game into overtime at 73-73. Then in OT she grabbed a key defensive rebound with USF up 82-79 with seven seconds left.
Proctor finished with 24 points but was not her team’s leading scorer. That would be junior guard Rachel Howard, who pumped in 26. For San Diego, twins Malina (33) and Maya (22) Hood combined for 55 of their team’s 80 points.
“It was incredible the way our team played to take us to overtime,’’ Azzi said. “They fought so hard. These two (Proctor and Howard) played their hearts out. We were not going to let this thing get away.’’
The Dons will now have three days to prepare for their semifinal game. With Azzi running the show, suffice to say her players won’t have any “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’’ stories to take home.
“I’m big on practice and not a whole lot of fun,’’ Azzi said.
It won’t be all drudgery for the Dons, though. At some point during the next three days they will gather at the home of senior guard Zhane Dikes for dinner with the Las Vegas native’s family.
Then it’s back to work.
They’re outta here
As it turns out, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. At least for the Santa Clara women. After besting No. 5 Gonzaga 59-58 on a free throw by Marie Bertholdt with 14 seconds to go, the No. 4 Broncos returned home. They will be back in Vegas on Sunday, in time for their Monday noon semifinal against the BYU-Pepperdine winner.
“We’re heading home,’’ coach J.R. Payne said. “Everyone has class tomorrow and we’re heading toward finals. We’ll handle the next three days as we do any big game. We’ll look at film, have mental prep. We’ll rest a lot.’’
The game was in doubt until the final horn sounded because tied at 58, Bertholdt missed her first free throw, then made the second. Laura Stockton’s shot at the buzzer missed the mark for Gonzaga.
“That didn’t stop me from knowing the second one would go in,’’ Bertholdt said. “I was confident.’’
Of the 11 players on Loyola Marymount’s roster, 10 are from California, five from Southern California and five from the Bay Area. The only outlier is NK Ilang, a freshman from Nigeria.
Asked about the makeup of her roster, LMU coach Charity Elliott said, “We’ll take them from anywhere,’’ before elaborating, “California is a hotbed. You have the Bay Area, which has great basketball, and Southern California, which has great basketball. We’re working to get deeper and stronger. That’s how you build a program.’’
No names only
Only a few of the WCC’s 20 men’s and women’s teams have uniforms with players’ names on the back. Two that go with names are Gonzaga’s men and San Francisco’s women.
Many coaches eschew names on their jerseys out of an old-school belief that the team is more important than the individual – which it is – but with so many games on television these days, it would be nice for viewers to know who’s who running up and down the court.
WCC Commissioner Lynn Holzman said she does not have the authority to request that schools put players’ names on their jerseys because it’s the prerogative of each individual coach whether to do so or not.
“Interesting concept,’’ Holzman said.
SESSION ONE DIGEST
LAS VEGAS -- As it turned out, the first game of the West Coast Conference tournament provided the first upset as the No. 9 seed Pepperdine women knocked off No. 8 Pacific 81-72 WITHOUT the Ogwumike sisters, Erica and Olivia.
To get the job done, the Waves had four players in double figures, led by point guard Paige Fecske’s 21 points. Yasmine Robinson-Bacote had 18, Allie Green 17 and Devin Stanback 12.
What’s remarkable about Thursday’s opening game at the Orleans Arena is that Pepperdine lost both regular season games to Pacific WITH the Ogwumikes and here the Waves topped the Tigers without either Erica or Olivia.
“We talked about that as a team,’’ Pepperdine coach Ryan Weisenberg said. “It gave the girls an opportunity to step up. It became a whole team effort. It’s tough losing the Ogwumike sisters.’’
Weisenberg would not specify the injuries to either Ogwumike except to say they were “not major’’ and their availability for Friday’s quarterfinal game against No. 1 BYU would be a “game-time decision.’’
“They have been doing great on their rehab,’’ Weisenberg said. “We have a great trainer and hopefully she’ll have them ready to rock and roll tomorrow morning.’’
It figures to take a little more than rock ‘n roll for Pepperdine, 7-23, to topple top seed BYU, 24-5. The Waves will surely need some rhythm ‘n blues, country, reggae, hip hop and a little rockabilly to score another upset.
The Ogwumikes are one of three sets of sisters on WCC rosters this season. The others are Andee and Bianca Velasco of Loyola Marymount and Maya and Malina Hood of San Diego. Only the Hoods are identical twins.
The name game
Notable names were to be found on the rosters of both teams in the opening game between Pacific and Pepperdine. For the Tigers, it’s Desire (Finnie) and Unique (Coleman). The Waves, in cornering the market on “K’s,’’ have a Kim (Jacobs), Keyari (Sleezer), Kayla (Blair), Krista (Pettepier), Kelsey (Brockway) and Keitra (Wallace).
A year ago at the WCC Tournament, I noticed that most of the teams’ cheerleading squads were uttering the same chant, which to me sounded like “Dee-op, dee-op dee-op.’’ What could it mean? Am I so out of touch as to not grasp the obvious? Listening closer this time around, it appears what they’re saying is “D-up, d-up d-up,’’ as in “play tough defense.’’ Sure enough, the chant is only used when that particular cheerleading squad’s team is on defense. D-up, indeed.