2015 WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - DAY ONE
LAS VEGAS - Pleasure or punishment, which is it? Ask any player or coach and he'll say it's the former, in no uncertain terms.
The subject is when two of the lowest seeds in the West Coast Conference Tournament defeat two of the other lowest seeds, they advance to play the Nos. 1 and 2 teams, where their chance of pulling an upset is about as slim as the cards being dealt at the blackjack tables. Possible, but not bloody likely.
The lesser teams all want the chance, of course. Coaches want to beat their opposite numbers and players just want a chance to compete and maybe, to win.
"I'm excited for our guys,'' San Francisco coach Rex Walters said after the No. 8 Dons beat No. 9 Pacific 62-58 in a first-round game Friday at the Orleans Arena to set up a quarterfinal against No. 1 Gonzaga. "It's a great opportunity. Our guys should feel confident.''
That's because when Gonzaga came to USF's Memorial Gym on Feb. 7, the Dons made the Zags work for an 81-70 victory, in contrast to USF's trip to Spokane on Jan. 8, an 88-57 pasting. So Gonzaga defeated USF twice this season by a combined 40 points.
"It's the team that plays better tomorrow night,'' Walters said. "I don't care who we're playing. If we play the way we're capable, we can get anyone.''
Added Dons guard Tim Derksen, "There's nothing to lose. The adrenalin is up. By game time I know my team will be ready.''
Maybe it's No. 7 Santa Clara that has the toughest task. The Broncos whipped No. 10 Loyola Marymount 85-54 and will face second seed BYU in the Saturday night recap at 8:30. During the season Santa Clara fared miserably against the Cougars, losing by 35 at home, 81-46, and by 21 in Provo, 78-57. That's 56 points in arrears of the other guys.
What's worse, the Broncos are catching BYU at the wrong time. Coach Dave Rose's Cougars are riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak, highlighted by a 73-70 upset of Gonzaga in Spokane that did wonders for the team's RPI and its BPI and its GNP, to say nothing of its RHQ (Relative Hotness Quotient).
Nevertheless, coach Kerry Keating's team is all-in on the prospect of playing BYU in the quarterfinals. If the Broncos shoot the ball against BYU like they did against LMU, they might have a chance of keeping the score close. Santa Clara flirted with 60 percent shooting for the game before settling for 55 percent - plenty good in any coach's game plan.
Starting guards Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark each scored 19 points and combined to hit 8 of 13 shots from 3-point range. This game, and the Broncos' 71-70 upset of Saint Mary's on the final day of the regular season, served as a tonic for the team.
"They feel good,'' Keating said of his players. "It's amazing what one win can do for you. Here we are playing good ball. I think tomorrow is going to be a great game. I can't wait to get there.''
As a senior, Clark is well aware that finality looms if Santa Clara should lose to BYU, a prospect neither he nor anyone else on his team is willing to concede. Not now. Not yet.
"Tomorrow's game is win or go home,'' he said. "It could be my last college game. I feel we're at a good point in the season. If we continue riding this positive energy going on, we should be fine.''
Added backcourt mate Brownridge, "I think the Saint Mary's win gave us a lot of confidence going into the WCC Tournament. Hopefully, we can keep this thing going. I think we're ready to go.''
Keating said BYU's 23-8 season, with the dazzling upset of Gonzaga in Spokane, earned the Cougars a trip to the NCAA Tournament regardless of how they fare in the conference tourney.
"Their resume is written,'' he said. "It has nothing to do with tomorrow's game. They're in the tournament. Tomorrow will not affect that. Our challenge is to get to that level.''
Clap for Pap
Adding to Santa Clara's sense of feel-good was a moment that no one connected to the team will ever forget, least of all Andrew Papenfus. The fifth-year senior lost all but three games of his final season when he had a benign tumor removed from his brain on Oct. 6. He played in two games in the regular season, including the upset of Saint Mary's, and was on the court Friday night with a little more than a minute left.
Keating called a play for Papenfus. He got the ball and drained a 3-point shot with 1:13 to go and later sank two free throws. He also had a steal and a rebound. That was one busy minute. The Broncos' bench exploded in cheers when his 3-point shot found the bottom of the net.
"He was ready,'' Brownridge said. "He worked hard to get to where he is. I had no doubt he'd make the shot, and he knocked down two free throws. I'm proud of him.''
Papenfus has been cleared to play a few minutes a game and Keating intimated he just might call on him.
"He can play a couple minutes,'' the coach said. "He's cleared to do that. He might be someone we can rely on for a couple minutes tomorrow.''
This being the first day of the men's tournament, the first air-ball free throw was shot by Santa Clara's Emmanuel Ndumanya right after he had made his first try. It always amuses me when players fail, and flail, at so basic a basketball skill.
Division of labor
LMU has an abundance of cheerleaders, apparently.When its women's team played top seed Gonzaga at noon on Friday, I spotted four cheerleaders, in uniform, taking the game off, relaxing in chairs just off the baseline. Hours later, those cheerleaders who didn't cheer for the LMU women were on the job cheering for the LMU men, with a different set of four cheerleaders getting the men's game off.
More puzzling still, there were a number of cheerleaders who worked both games. Maybe they have different contracts. In any event, all those cheerleaders are done for the tournament with the Lions of both genders losing on Friday.
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.