2015 WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - DAY TWO
LAS VEGAS - Of the four West Coast Conference men's quarterfinal games played Saturday, one was an upset, one was darn near an upset, one was half an upset and one was a slugfest.
By the end of a long day at the Orleans Arena before a single-session record crowd of 8,537, Monday's semifinals were set, with top seed Gonzaga taking on plucky Pepperdine, the No. 4 seed, at 6 p.m. on ESPN followed by the lowest remaining seed, No. 6 Portland, facing No. 2 BYU at 8:30 on ESPN2.
As it turned out, BYU and Santa Clara saved the best for last. It took a jumper with 2.5 seconds left by Tyler Haws for the Cougars to top the No. 7 Broncos, 78-76, after Brandon Clark's half-court shot at the buzzer fell short.
"I've seen him make it 50 times (in practice),'' Denzel Johnson said of his teammate's desperate heave. "You couldn't tell me it wasn't going in. It looked good.''
Said Haws, "Clark's shot looked good from half-court. Anytime the ball's in the air I get nervous.''
Haws' jumper from near the free throw line with 6-foot-6 Jarvis Pugh contesting the shot gave him 30 points for the night, one more than Santa Clara's Jared Brownridge, who poured in 19 points in the first half.
The score was tied 36-36 at halftime. It looked as though BYU was about to take control of the game when it went up 67-59 in the second half but the Broncos spent the next few minutes catching up, with Clark's 3-point shot cutting the deficit to 76-74 with 1:02 left. Seconds later Brownridge stole the ball and dashed in for the layup that made it 76-76 at 0:28 to set up the last-second dramatics.
"It's a little tough to swallow because I felt we played well enough to win tonight,'' Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. "We fell one possession short. I'm proud of our guys' effort. I'm proud of our program, where it's headed.''
The Cougars, meanwhile, have some good mojo working when it comes to last-second shots. On Friday, Lexi Eaton's baseline jumper at the buzzer made the BYU women a 65-64 winner over Saint Mary's in the quarterfinals. Now Haws.
"I want to give credit to Santa Clara and (coach) Kerry Keating and his team. That was a really entertaining game and a well-played game on their part," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "We ended up making one more play than they did. We're happy for the win but we look forward to Monday."
The upset, being an upset, was unexpected and created the BYU-Portland semifinal.
Portland came out prepared and determined and inspired - all of that and more - and put a 69-52 whipping on No. 3 Saint Mary's, relegating the 21-9 Gaels, in all probability, to the NIT. During the season the Gaels had no trouble with the Pilots, beating them 74-64 and 68-51.
"Obviously, it's a very pleasing win,'' Portland coach Eric Reveno said. "I felt like we were able to put together 40 minutes. We talked about everyone doing their roles and it started with energy. We really stayed focused. I told the guys it was a team win, and it was. The guys were prepared to dig in.''
The Pilots led by four at halftime, 34-30, and gradually built on that until they were up 64-47 inside of four minutes to go. For Saint Mary's, it was a stunning demise. Center Brad Waldow, playing what would be his last game for the Gaels (notwithstanding an NIT bid that might be coming), had 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting. The rest of his teammates made only 5 of 29 shots, perhaps the most startling statistic of the tournament.
"No excuses,'' Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Portland played well.''
Portland also played with balance, as four players scored in double figures. Kevin Bailey had 16, Jason Todd 14 and Thomas van der Mars and D'Marques Tyson with 10 each.
The half of an upset was interesting for, well, a half. San Francisco came out confident and high-stepping and surprised mighty Gonzaga by forging a 29-27 lead at halftime. A 21-6 run by the Zags in the middle of the second half took care of things and propelled them to an 81-72 victory before a massively pro-Gonzaga crowd.
"I thought our guys played hard, definitely gave ourselves a chance to beat a very good team,'' USF coach Rex Walters said. "There was a span (in the second half) we couldn't get a shot, couldn't get a call, they branched out to a 10-point lead. Our guys showed great character in fighting.''
Forward Mark Tollefsen and guard Tim Derksen each had 21 points for the Dons, with point guard Devin Watson adding 17.
"We fought really hard. You can't fault our effort,'' Tollefsen said. "We fought so hard, gave it all we had.''
In the second half, a 16-0 run by Gonzaga proved decisive, although the Dons did cut into the deficit a little by the end. Center Przemek Karnowski had a career-high 24 points, Kyle Wiltjer 19 before leaving with a hurting hip and Kevin Pangos and Domantas Sabonis each chipped in 10.
"They were a scrappy team and were aggressive on the defensive end,'' Pangos said. "They played hard the whole game and that made it tough for us.''
One area of concern for Gonzaga going into Monday's semifinal is the condition of star forward Kyle Wiltjer. With 5:09 left in the game he landed awkwardly trying to make a defensive play and ended up doing the splits and hurting his hip.
"He's really, really sore,'' coach Mark Few said. "Got the splits got into the position he doesn't get into even in yoga.''
To confirm, the 6-10 Wiltjer practices yoga?
"We all do, even me. Even him,'' Few said, gesturing to the man next to him, 7-1, 288-pound center Przemek Karnowski. "Can you imagine him doing the Downward Facing Dog?''
"It's not easy,'' Karnowski said.
First to 50 wins it
That's how the Pepperdine-San Diego game played out, with the Waves winning ugly 50-47. The pace of play was like running in mud. That was fine and dandy for Pep coach Marty Wilson.
"We're playing on Monday. That's all that matters,'' he said. "Bottom line, we're playing on Monday.''
San Diego Bill Grier had his own opinion on a game that ended with his Johnny Dee heaving up a 3-point shot from half court that did not find its mark at the buzzer.
"It was kind of an ugly game,'' Grier said. "I think it's our seventh game decided on the last possession. It's been frustrating because we've only won two of them. I think Johnny had a real good look. It just didn't go in.''
One of the built-in assets to San Diego's game is Dee at the free throw line. The man is money from 15 feet, as in .919 this season and .909 for his career. However, he did not get to the free throw line in the loss to Pepperdine. Not once.
Then again, there weren't many made free throws to be had for USD, which made 6 of 9 tries.
Pepperdine is highly rated for its defense against 3-point shots but for this game the Waves played stout free throw-line defense as well. Dee was held to 11 points, six below his average in what was a low-scoring, physical game.
"They were making sure they didn't foul me coming down the lane,'' Dee said.
Wilson said in defending Dee, he tried to put a bigger player on the 6-foot sharpshooter so that his contested shots were even more contested. From the field he made only 5 of 20 shots.
"We were dialed in to what he's doing, what he's trying to do,'' the Pepperdine coach said. "We know he's Option 1 and sometimes Option 2 and Option 3. We wanted to make him take quicker shots with bigger players on him.''
We're not worthy
That's essentially what Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said about his team vis a vis an at-large NCAA Tournament bid after getting handled by Portland. He said the same thing after the Gaels were upset by Santa Clara on the last day of the regular season. Saint Mary's finished 21-9.
"We have no chance of an at-large bid after last Saturday,'' Bennett said. "I'm an optimistic guy but that's not realistic. We're not an at-large team. We don't deserve it.''
In other words, hello, NIT.
It's always a little sad when accomplished senior players have to end their careers with a defeat, but such is the nature of competition. Over the last two days the WCC said goodbye to Dee and backcourt mate Christopher Anderson, Waldow and Kerry Carter of Saint Mary's, Godwin Okonji of Loyola Marymount, Kruize Pinkins of USF and Brandon Clark of Santa Clara.
Speaking about Pinkins and his other seniors but in a way speaking for all the conference's departing seniors, Walters said, "I'm really proud of our seniors, what they've done over two, three, four years. I'll always have a place in my heart for them. The program is better for them.''
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.