Crumpacker: Fight to the Finals
Previewing the Men's #WCChoops Semifinals
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
If there is one overarching lesson to be gleaned from the quarterfinal round of the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament, it is this:
Fight, damnit! Fight, fight, fight and fight some more.
Stand up to your more talented opponent. Don’t give an inch. Contest everything.
Loyola Marymount, 11-19 going into its game against top seed Gonzaga, gave the Zags all they could handle for 30 minutes before shifting into another gear to put the game away and win handily, 83-69.
San Francisco, Gonzaga’s opponent in Monday’s 6 p.m. semifinal at the Orleans Arena, should keep that in mind.
“It’s going to be like this until the end of the year,’’ Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams said.
No. 10 Pepperdine, meanwhile, scared the holy heck out of No. 2 Saint Mary’s in a game that was not settled until the last three-plus minutes, when Calvin Hermanson came to the rescue and drilled a trio of 3-point shots in the Gaels’ 69-66 victory over the Waves.
That a 6-25 team had a legitimate chance to knock off a 27-4 team should factor in BYU’s preparation for its 8:30 semifinal encounter with Saint Mary’s.
“It’s something we have to expect,’’ Saint Mary’s Jock Landale said. “Our conference this year has been more competitive.’’
That being said, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are both going for three-peats on Monday night, having swept their semifinal opponents during the conference season. The Zags defeated the Dons in San Francisco 75-65 and did so again two weeks later in Spokane 82-73. In games that were played about a month apart, Saint Mary’s bested BYU in Provo 74-64 on Dec. 30 and was even more convincing in dispatching the Cougars 75-62 in Provo on Jan. 25.
The top two seeds are the top two seeds for a reason, just as BYU earned its No. 3 status, as did No. 4 USF. However, the path to the championship game on Tuesday night is hardly a smooth one for either the Zags or the Gaels. Rather, it’s fraught with impediments, whether it’s USF coach Kyle Smith’s use of analytics in determining which of nine players in his rotation to use depending on opponent or BYU’s terrific tandem of Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs.
“We know it’s going to be a really tough game for us,’’ Landale said. “They have two good guards and they’re going to play us physical in the 4 and 5 spots.’’
In assessing the Cougars, Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said, “They don’t have (Eric) Mika, thank goodness. They’re more deliberate than they were. They played more up tempo last year.’’
Going into the semifinals, Saint Mary’s (28-4) vs. BYU (23-9) looks to be the more competitive game if for nothing more than their records and the fact these are the second and third seeds in the WCC Tournament.
“It’s something we have to expect. It’s not going to be easy for us,’’ Landale said.
Saint Mary’s has the advantage in the post with Landale, who will probably see a lot of Luke Worthington and Childs, while BYU has a favorable matchup in the backcourt with Bryant and T.J. Haws. The game could come down to perimeter shooting from such Gaels as Hermanson, Emmett Naar, Jordan Ford and Tanner Krebs.
“We played them tough. We’ve yet to beat them,’’ BYU coach Dave Rose said. “Our guys will be excited.’’
In the other semi, USF (18-14) comes up well short in comparison to the abundance of talented players on the Gonzaga roster, with five players scoring in double figures and a sixth at 9.9. One Zag, forward Rui Hachimura, made the All-WCC first team despite the fact he’s not a starter.
Gonzaga comes into its semi with USF secure in the knowledge that when it’s time to put the hammer down, it has a mighty sledge to wield. The final 10 minutes of its quarterfinal vs. LMU was as impressive as anything yet seen in this WCC Tournament.
“You’re in for transition defense,’’ Smith said. “You have to get back on the glass. We’ll be all right. We’ll weather the storm.’’
For that, Smith will rely on his starting guards, Frankie Ferrari and Jordan Ratinho … unless his analytics determines that freshman Souley Boum is a better option with his slithery quickness off the dribble.
“We played them pretty tough,’’ Ratinho said of his team’s losses of 10 and nine points to Gonzaga. “We know what they’re going to do. We have to focus on us.’’
Added backcourt mate Ferrari, “It’s going to be a good atmosphere Monday night. We played them pretty well.’’
Smith won’t need his analytics to tell him that in tournament play, the most important word on a scouting report is a simple one:
Fight, fight, fight and fight some more. Good things tend to happen.
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.