2015 WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - DAY ONE
LAS VEGAS - As one of the finest female basketball players in U.S. history, Jennifer Azzi knows the importance of good nutrition. The San Francisco coach makes sure her young women eat healthy, at home and on the road.
With one soon-to-be-realized exception.
For their 74-64 upset of No. 3 Pacific in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament, the No. 6 Dons will get to indulge themselves at a franchise chicken joint called Raising Cane's. There are eight locations in Las Vegas. The menu is basic comfort food: hand-battered chicken fingers, fries, coleslaw and Texas toast, along with the chain's signature Cane's sauce. Everything is made fresh daily, according to the Raising Cane's website.
"We made a little deal to go to Cane's for chicken fingers and garlic bread,'' USF guard Taj Winston said. "I've been hearing so much about it. I have two teammates from Las Vegas and they talk about it all the time.''
The deal was if the Dons upset Pacific, they get to go to Cane's and break their training table routine of kale and quinoa and other dreadfully healthy stuff.
"When we go on a road trip we try to bribe the coach,'' Winston said. "We don't get this all the time. It's healthy eating at all times. When we get the opportunity, we take advantage of it. It's one time out of the year we get something like that. We're a pretty healthy team.''
And theirs was a pretty healthy upset of the 21-8 Tigers. USF was humiliated at home by Pacific in the first conference game of the year, 92-54, but came back on the last day of the season and beat the Tigers in Stockton 91-79.
Thursday's spirited victory by the Dons earned them three full days off before they play the winner of Friday afternoon's Santa Clara-San Diego game in a Monday semifinal. The Dons earned this one. Their guards were quicker than Pacific's and they rebounded with enthusiasm. Winston had 7 boards, Zhane Dikes had 5, Aundrea Gordon 4 and Anna Seilund 2. As a team USF out-rebounded Pacific 43-33.
"It's pretty significant,'' Winston said of her team's rebound advantage. "Coach says when our guards are rebounding, we're able to push the ball up court. It's as important for our guards as our bigs.''
Winston led the Dons with 20 points, one more than forward Taylor Proctor. Dikes had 11 points to go with her 5 boards.
BYU 65, Saint Mary's 64
The day started with a one-point game (see below) and ended with a one-point game as the No. 5 Cougars edged the No. 4 Gaels on Lexi Eaton's 12-foot baseline jumper with two seconds left. BYU has three days off before it plays the Gonzaga-Loyola Marymount winner in a noon semifinal on Monday.
"It was a great nightcap game,'' Saint Mary's coach Paul Thomas said. "I'm sure that was exciting to watch. I thought our team did a super job. Unfortunately, someone has to go home as the non-winner. They made a play at the end.''
Carli Rosenthal's rebound-follow shot with 16 seconds to go gave the Gaels a very short-lived 64-63 lead until Eaton, who poured in 30 points, found the range from the right baseline.
"The (called) play was run for another player. It didn't work out,'' Eaton said. "I knew there were five seconds left. I had to make myself available. I knew the baseline would be open.''
BYU coach Jeff Judkins took no credit for the winning shot, saying, "The play Lexi made at the end, there's no way I could draw that up.''
Rosenthal did all she could to limit the offensive output of WCC Player of the Year Morgan Bailey. To that, she was successful as Morgan had only four points on 2 of 11 shooting.
"I've got to give a lot of the credit to Carli Rosenthal,'' Morgan said. "She pushed me off the block. She's hard to move. I'm happy Lexi hit that shot so I can redeem myself on Monday. She does it all the time in practice. I have all the confidence in the world in that girl.''
Loyola Marymount 68, Pepperdine 67
While the Dons earned a tasty reward for their win, all LMU got for their effort was a date with No. 1 Gonzaga on Friday at noon. That's fine with the Lions, who won only six games all season.
For all of you who had Emily Ben-Jumbo scoring the first points in the West Coast Conference women's basketball tournament in your office pools, congratulations. The Loyola Marymount forward got the scoring started with a tip-in at 17:59 of the first half at the Orleans Arena.
As it turned out, that basket was an important one. The Lions had to hold their breath as Pepperdine's Tessa Emerson missed on a 3-point shot with two seconds left in what was a one-point victory for LMU.
Thus did LMU earn the right to play the No. 1 team in the conference, Gonzaga, at noon on Friday. The Zags defeated the Lions twice during the regular season, by 14 and 23 points. What say you, LMU?
"They always say in March you survive and advance,'' LMU coach Charity Elliott said. "That's all we did today. Gonzaga is very talented and very deep. We're just going into it with a mindset of `Let er rip.' This is March Madness. Anything can happen. We're going to compete and play as hard as we possibly can.''
And if that doesn't work?
"We might throw the kitchen sink at them,'' said Elliott, who definitely had no charity in her heart with that statement. "The pressure's all on them. It's not on us.''
Three players scored the lion's share of the Lions points. Guard Sophie Taylor had 22 points, Ben-Jumbo had 17 and 8 rebounds and guard Leslie Lopez-Wood added 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal.
Ben-Jumbo is a senior from the Portland suburb of Tualatin. Her parents are from Nigeria and there's a story behind her hyphenated surname. Her father's first name is Benonaih but he's known as Ben so his daughter welded Ben to his surname of Jumbo to come up Ben-Jumbo. In case you were wondering.
Another hyphenated player for LMU is Lopez-Wood. She gets the Wood from her father and the Lopez from her mother. With her pale complexion, she was known as "La guera,'' meaning white, growing up in North Hollywood. She's a scrappy player for the Lions, willing to do anything her team needs. That was reflected in her stat line.
"I feel that's everyone's role,'' she said. "We try to get the 50-50 balls. We try to fight for everything. Anything that I can contribute I want to do, every little thing. It doesn't matter about the points. I just want to help contribute to a win.''
The Lions will need all hands on deck against 23-6 Gonzaga. Maybe even a kitchen sink, too.
"It gives us a lot of confidence going into the game against Gonzaga,'' Taylor said. "It gives us the vision that we can win any game. I can't wait. I know our team matches up well with Gonzaga. Everyone is excited.''
Santa Clara 66, Portland 58
In a 7 (Broncos) vs. 10 (Pilots) contest, Santa Clara made it a clean sweep of Portland for 2014-15, adding Thursday's win to regular season victories by scores of 83-68 and 64-55.
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.