By John Crumpacker
LAS VEGAS – BYU coach Jeff Judkins said something after his team’s quarterfinal victory over Pepperdine that might give his next opponent, Santa Clara, pause for thought heading into Monday’s WCC Tournament semifinal showdown.
“We’ve had a fun year,’’ Judkins said after his team pushed its record to 25-5. “We’ve learned to play together. It’s been fun. Hopefully, we can play really well on Monday.’’
It’s not often a coach says something as simple as his or her team is having fun. But how else to describe the process of winning 25 games? It’s certainly the opposite of drudgery. If the Cougars get by the Broncos in the semis, they could be careening toward a WCC championship game encounter with No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s, a 24-game winner to this point that presumably had a whole bunch of fun winning those 24 games.
However, to advance to Tuesday’s tournament title game, both BYU and Saint Mary’s will have to defeat their semifinal opponents for the third time this season. That’s never easy, unless one team is clearly superior to the other.
“Santa Clara is a very good team, very athletic,’’ Judkins said. “Their zone is really tough. They really work well together.’’
BYU had two reasonably close games with Santa Clara during the regular season, winning 68-63 and 70-63. Clearly, the key for the Cougars is to hold the Broncos to 63 points.
Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, had a little easier time in its games with USF, winning 78-68 and 72-59.
“We keep reiterating how we have to play our game – pushing the ball and playing defense,’’ Saint Mary’s Megan McKay said. “We’re playing good Saint Mary’s ball right now.’’
Assessing the Dons, McKay’s teammate Lauren Nicholson said, “USF is a good side. We (had) tough battles. We think we can win every game from here. Playing defense will be the key to win.’’
As the tournament is now down to the semifinals, the reality is either the third time will either be a charm or a job too daunting for BYU and Saint Mary’s.
Looking ahead to Monday’s semifinals, here’s What We Think of the tournament thus far:
1) The inside-outside combination of BYU’s Kalani Purcell and Lexi Rydalch will be too much for Santa Clara in the semifinals. Rydalch is a pure scorer from just about anywhere on the court as she operates under a green light for 40 minutes. Purcell is a dominant force inside who gobbles up rebounds like the Pac Man video game of old.
2) That being said, Santa Clara is riding a high after knocking off Gonzaga 59-58 on the opening day of the tournament. Tied at 58-all in the closing seconds, Marie Bertholdt hit one of two free throws to make the Broncos winners. “That didn’t stop me from knowing the second one would go in,’’ Bertholdt said after missing the first free throw. Still, Bertholdt and fellow front-liners Lori Parkinson and Morgan McGwire will be in deep against the Cougars. Too deep, most likely.
3) No. 6 seed USF is feeling confident after sending No. 3 San Diego home early in an 84-80 upset on the tournament’s opening day. (See quote, below.) Although the Dons lost twice to Saint Mary’s during the regular season, they sound undaunted at facing the No. 2 Gaels. It’s tough to beat a team three times during a season and Saint Mary’s might find that prospect to be a bridge too far.
4) At 6-feet, Saint Mary’s guard Lauren Nicholson might present matchup problems for USF with her height and length. She had 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists vs. Loyola Marymount and helped her team crush the Lions on the boards by a whopping 54-28 margin.
Stat line of the quarterfinals
Rydalch wasn’t named WCC Player of the Year for nothing. The BYU senior can bring it. In her team’s 72-59 victory over Pepperdine Rydalch had 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 12 rebounds and 5 steals. It’s not often when someone on her own team out-rebounds Kalani Purcell, the WCC’s leading rebounder, but this was one of those games. Purcell had 11 boards vs. Pep.
Quote of the quarterfinals
“We’re going to get after it. We’re not through with this tournament. We’re definitely here for the championship.’’
That’s USF’s confident senior forward, Taylor Proctor, after the No. 6 Dons knocked off No. 3 San Diego.
Follow the three dots
San Diego’s Malina Hood was terrific in defeat as she had 33 points and 8 rebounds against USF. Twin sister Maya wasn’t too bad, either, with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals. … Another player stalwart in defeat was Gonzaga center Shelby Cheslek, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal in the one-point loss to Santa Clara. … For some reason, every time I hear the PA announcer refer to Pepperdine’s 5-foot-4 Paige Fecske, I think “Pesky Fecske.’’ She was far more than pesky as the Waves toppled Pacific 81-72, checking in with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal.