2015 WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED - WCC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - DAYTWO
LAS VEGAS - After putting a healthy scare into No. 1 Gonzaga for the better part of 30 minutes, the last thing Loyola Marymount coach Charity Elliott wanted to think about was Monday's semifinal matchup between the Zags and No. 5 BYU.
She gave it a little thought anyway.
"There is not one team you can say, `We got this.' It's going to be a dogfight,'' Elliott said. "I'm not picking on that game. It's going to be a great game and a great atmosphere.''
Seeing that Gonzaga draws far and away the most fans of any women's basketball team in the West Coast Conference, averaging 5,366 at home, the Orleans Arena should be conspicuous with Zags partisans. BYU fans travel in impressive numbers to follow their men's team, which plays its quarterfinal game on Monday night, and the women's team will likely benefit from that and make Gonzaga-BYU the best attended of the women's tournament to date.
Gonzaga advanced to the semis with a 70-50 victory over LMU in a game that was close for the first 28 minutes before the Zags asserted themselves and put the game away. Gonzaga's towering front court of 6-foot-5 Shelby Cheslek and 6-4 Sunny Greinacher combined for 28 points, 19 rebounds (14 by Cheslek), six assists, four blocks and three steals.
"I thought it was a good defensive effort in the second half when we broke it open,'' Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. "It was because we got a couple turnovers. That was a nice run there.''
For a team that had won only seven games all season going into Friday's quarterfinals, LMU gave a good accounting of itself. As late as 12:28 remaining it was a one-point game, 39-38, in favor of the No. 1 Zags.
Less than four minutes later, it was 49-38 Gonzaga, a 10-0 run that made the difference in the game and sent the Lions home at 7-24. A telling stat in the negative for LMU was eight assists more than offset by 20 turnovers.
On the dais after the game, Elliott waxed emotional about her team, which endured two major injuries and a dispiriting stretch in which it lost 19 of 20 games.
"I really felt for 32 minutes we played inspired,'' Elliott said. "We played hard, we played smart. We had such an attacking mentality. Then they turned the pressure up and we had a hard time recovering. Against a team like Gonzaga, you can't give them a foot in the door. It felt like it went from a two-point game to a 12-point game in 10 seconds.''
The Lions lose two seniors to graduation, forward Emily Ben-Jumbo, who had 11 points against Gonzaga, and Taylor Anderson, who was injured and did not play.
"Emily is one of the best leaders I've ever coached,'' Elliott said. "I'm struggling thinking about coaching and not having Emily and Taylor in the gym with me. We won four of our last seven games. I'm beyond proud. There's not been a day these kids quit. This group's been a great team to coach. I'm proud of where we got with what we lost.''
San Diego 51, Santa Clara 42
It was the lowest-scoring game of the tournament to date and definitely not a work of art. The Broncos hung around for a while until the inevitability of talent took over and the Toreros emerged victorious. Most impressive for USD was the 10 rebounds apiece by forward Sophia Ederaine and guard Maya Wood; forward Katelyn McDaniel, who scored a team-high 16 points, also had eight rebounds. Overall San Diego had a 42-29 advantage on the glass.
"Great effort,'' USD coach Cindy Fisher said.
Asked about facing USF in the semis, Fisher said, "They played really, really well both times they played us. They have a talented group and have different people on their team who are a threat.''
The Toreros beat the Dons both times during the season but it wasn't easy, as scores of 56-55 and 74-69 indicate. The teams will have the weekend to rest, recover and prepare for Monday's 2:30 p.m. game.
"We have a lot of work to do when we leave here to get ready,'' Fisher said. "You lose, you go home, and nobody wants to go home.''
One who is going home, with sadness, is Santa Clara's Nici Gilday. The senior from San Jose played her last game for the Broncos and did all she could to help her team. She had 22 points, six rebounds and two steals and two red eyes after the game.
"I'm just grateful I got to play one season for coach (J.R.) Payne,'' Gilday said of her first-year coach. "This season has meant so much. I was proud to be a Bronco, especially this year.''
Gilday finished second in the conference in scoring during the regular season at 19.2 points per game, behind the 21.4 of BYU's Lexi Eaton.
"Thank God Nici Gilday is a senior. She is, right?'' Fisher said. "She's a great player.''
First of its kind
The Santa Clara-San Diego game saw the first backcourt violation of the tournament when the Toreros were whistled for the violation, one of their 15 turnovers.
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.