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Crumpacker - Previewing the #WCChoops Semis

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist 


#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. 


LAS VEGAS – Sometimes, you get chalk. Other times, you get chaos.

For the WCC men’s tournament, it’s the former. And it’s as it should be, as the top four teams during the regular season all survived their quarterfinal games to advance to Monday’s semifinals at Orleans Arena.

Better yet, each semifinal offers a compelling narrative.

Up first, it’s No. 1 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 4 Pepperdine at 6 p.m. (ESPN), followed by No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 BYU at 8:30 (ESPN2). Pepperdine (18-12) beat Saint Mary’s (26-4) twice during the regular season and is brimming with confidence; of the Gaels’ four losses, the Waves were responsible for two of them. BYU (23-9) and Gonzaga (24-7) split during the season, with each team winning on the road.

That should make for a good show on Monday, with all four teams believing they have the best shot at being crowned champion. Then, too, there’s the NCAA Tournament equation. Will the Selection Committee regard the WCC as a one-invite league this year, winner take all? If Pepperdine wins it all, will the Committee feel generous enough to award at-large bids to Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga based on the totality of their seasons?

“We have to play better,’’ Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett when asked about facing Pep for the third time. “Down the stretch they got us. It’s a good matchup. They have good players, a good team. It should be a good game. The semi should be a heck of a game.’’

The Gaels lost to Pep at Firestone Fieldhouse on Jan. 9 by a 67-64 count, then were surprised by the Waves in the cozy confines of McKeon Pavilion on Feb. 11 as they fell 69-63. For their part, the Waves think there’s no reason they shouldn’t take down Saint Mary’s for a third time.

“Our expectation coming into the tournament is to take it game-by-game,’’ Pepperdine’s All-WCC forward Stacy Davis said. “We can compete with any team in the conference. No team comes into the tournament believing they can’t go all the way.’’

For their part, the Gaels have to cling to the notion that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season.

“We are pretty excited that we get to play Pepperdine in the semifinals,’’ forward Dane Pineau said. “We’re pretty pumped up, for sure. We just got to stay composed. Last couple of times we lost our mojo. We have to make sure we stay together this time. We have to do what we’ve done all year, trust in the system.’’

In the other semi, Gonzaga has to feel good about going to Provo and coming away with a 71-68 victory in the last game of the regular season to pull into a mathematical tie with Saint Mary’s for the regular season title at 15-3. On Jan. 14, BYU nipped the Zags 69-68 in Spokane.

“Now we’re playing for the NCAA bid, NCAA Tournament aspirations,’’ Gonzaga guard Eric McClellan said after scoring a career-high 26 points against Portland. “Our mentality has to stay consistent. We have to come out aggressive.’’

Gonzaga coach Mark Few called BYU “a tough, tough out. They always have been. They come at you in waves and they play with freedom and confidence on the offensive side of the ball.’’

Referring to his team’s regular season finale against BYU, Few said, “A week ago we were pretty darn resilient in Provo and we did a good job of matching their intensity. I’m glad we have a day to rest. We’re not a deep team at all.’’

With the semis looming, this is What We Think of Chalk Monday:

  • Pepperdine has Saint Mary’s number, and the number is three. The Waves simply know how to beat the Gaels, and they will do it again with better athletes and confidence borne of two previous wins.
  • There’s not much to choose between Gonzaga and BYU other than greater consistency on the part of the Zags. Gonzaga’s guard play has improved in the second half of the season to the point that McClellan can be a force if the Cougars put all their defensive effort into denying Kyle Wiltjer the ball. Watch for Domantas Sabonis to exert his will over BYU lesser front line. Call it Gonzaga in a close one. 

Stat line of the quarterfinals
In Saint Mary’s 60-48 victory over Loyola Marymount, Pineau had 16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 1 steal – thus earning his scholarship money for that game. The four blocks is a season high and one shy of his career best … vs. LMU a year ago.

Quote of the quarterfinals
“It felt a lot closer than 60-48, I’ll tell you that. I’m proud of our guys. We weathered the storm, didn’t panic and kept our composure.’’

That’s Bennett, breathing a little easier after putting LMU away in the last 10 minutes.

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It should be mentioned that LMU won its first tournament game and extended Saint Mary’s for 30 minutes without its best player, forward Adom Jacko, sidelined with back spasms. … Pepperdine won its quarterfinal vs. San Francisco by outscoring the Dons 24-12 off turnovers in a 90-86 final. … Guards Devin Watson (33) and Tim Derksen (23) combined for 56 of USF’s 86 points as they did all they could to extend their season. The Dons finished at 15-15.

John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.