Crumpacker: Setting Up #WCChoops Super Saturday
Saturday features four men's quarterfinals as the Decade in the Desert rolls on
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
While it can be debated whether earning a shot at playing the top two teams in the conference is a good thing or not, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine are thrilled to still be playing in the 2018 Gorilla Glue West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament.
In any tournament, it’s about survive and advance, and that’s what the Lions and Waves did on the first day of men’s play on Friday night at the Orleans Arena. They will be back on the court before they know it.
Pepperdine pulled off the first upset of the tournament, seeded 10 th and last and surprising No. 7 Santa Clara 85-69 on the strength of big games from Kameron Edwards, who had 25 points, and Trae Berhow, who had 23.
The Waves played a little defense, too, as they focused their efforts on Santa Clara’s K.J. Feagin, the second-leading scorer in the conference. Hounded pillar to post, stem to stern, up, down and every which way, Feagin ended up shooting 4 of 22 from the field and 0-9 from 3-point range.
Another important factor in Pepperdine’s upset, maybe the most important, was how deadeye the players were on their shots. When it was over, the Waves had made 34 of 48 shots for a glittering field goal percentage of 70.8 – the best single-game mark in WCC men’s tournament history. Edwards hit on 11 of 15 shots, Berhow 8 of 10, Colbey Ross 6 of 8, Matthew Atewe 4 of 5. Other than Edwards, no Wave missed more than two shots.
“Offensively, defensively, by far our best game all year. By far,’’ coach Marty Wilson said. “For us to hold Feagin 4 for 22, 0 for 9, my thought is he’s in the top two point guards in the league. For us to execute like we did, make simple plays, we shot 73 percent in the second half. That’s a disciplined team, guys playing for each other.’’
Berhow said he and his teammates were motivated to play hard for Wilson, who was informed by school officials last month that he would not be returning as coach next season. Whenever Pepperdine loses in this tournament, and it could be as soon as Saturday night vs. Saint Mary’s, that will be Wilson’s final game in Malibu.
“It’s playing for him, playing for the school, for the name on our uniforms,’’ Berhow said. “We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder.’’
Wilson was quick to interject, “That’s their job, to just play. It’s not for me. We want them to continue to want to play.’’
Well, they get Saint Mary’s, a team that beat them 91-67 and 75-61 during conference play.
“Great competition,’’ Berhow said of the Gaels. “Very disciplined team. We have to play disciplined with them. I think it will be a lot better game this time around.’’
Throughout its game with Santa Clara, Pepperdine did not look like, or play like, a 5-25 team. It looked downright muscular, like some Big 10 team pushing around an inferior opponent. Early in the second half, Berhow hit consecutive 3-point shots to give Pep some pep in its step with a 46-27 lead. Much later, guard Amadi Udenyi whipped a rocket of a bounce pass to Edwards for an easy layup and an 81-60 lead that underscored the Waves’ sterling performance.
In facing Saint Mary’s, Wilson said, “We’ll watch film and how we played (against the Gaels) and what adjustments we have to make. We’ll see a lot of ball screens. If you fall asleep, they’ll pick you apart.’’
The Saint Mary’s-Pepperdine game is the nightcap, at 9 p.m. on ESPN2, preceded by Gonzaga-LMU at 7, also on ESPN2.
The No.8 Lions had to work hard for their 78-72 victory over No. 9 Portland, a game that was not decided until the final minute and two free throws by James Batemon for a 74-67 lead; Batemon was high for the game with 29 points as he took charge in the second half and physically willed his team to win.
“I wanted to come out aggressive to give my team a chance,’’ Batemon said. “I’m glad it played out for us.’’
Batemon said playing No. 1 Gonzaga represents “a dream come true. I watched them on TV when I was in junior college. It’s a dream come true, a big-time experience. I’m going to cherish this forever.’’
Asked what LMU needs to do to avoid being run out of the arena, coach Mike Dunlap said, “Now that the butterflies are over, we can focus on those things that are basketball-related. It’s a heck of an opportunity. You want to be in these situations. (We need to) take care of the ball, rebound, shoot well and find a way to take good shots.’’
These two games represent the end of a full day of men’s play on day two of the tournament that starts at 1 p.m. with No. 3 BYU taking on No. 6 San Diego followed by No. 4 San Francisco and No. 5 Pacific at 3.
The winners advance to the semifinals on Monday night. Most everyone – heck, everyone – expects Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s to meet for the championship on Tuesday night.
But in a tournament in which a 5-25 team advanced on the men’s side and a 7th seed knocked off a 2nd seed on the women’s side (Pacific 77, Saint Mary’s 73), at least there’s a whiff of hope for teams happy to still be playing.
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. Crumpacker has been covering #WCChoops since the 2014-15 season.