Crumpacker: Women's Team Look To Avoid #WCChoops Pressure

Feb. 28, 2018

By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist 

Having won the West Coast Conference regular season women’s basketball title by a healthy four games over Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga comes into the conference tournament as the prohibitive favorite on the strength of being the first WCC women’s program to record 17 conference wins.

No pressure, though, right, coach Lisa Fortier?

“Yeah, a little bit,’’ she said as her Zags bring an overall mark of 24-5 into the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, where Gonzaga on Friday will play the winner of the 8/9 game between Pepperdine and Santa Clara. “We want to play in the NCAA Tournament every year. There’s no guarantees. Team success is what we preach here. We love the individual accolades … but team goals and success are what we take pride in.’’

In a 17-1 conference season for Gonzaga, the “1” was a 72-56 loss to the Gaels in Spokane on Feb. 10. Funny, the Gonzaga men also lost their only conference game to Saint Mary’s in Spokane.

“We are 80 minutes from even thinking about Gonzaga; 80 minutes and five days before we have to think about it,’’ said Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas, meaning his Gaels would need to win two games -- a quarterfinal on Friday vs. the 7/10 winner between Pacific and Portland, and a Monday semifinal – before encountering the Zags in the championship on Tuesday.

“Looking at the standings, we were the only team to beat them,’’ Thomas said. “It’s who’s playing well at the time. Do I like our chances (vs. Gonzaga)? Absolutely. If we play our best basketball, I think we can advance in the tournament. We are not playing consistently this year. We are playing just well enough to win some games.’’



Saint Mary’s finished 20-9 overall and 13-5 in the WCC, good enough for a two-game advantage over BYU (11-7) and Loyola Marymount (11-7).

Gonzaga comes into the tournament with the WCC Player of the Year in guard Jill Barta, who has the sweetest shot in the conference, women or men. She averaged 18.1 points, improved to 8.5 rebounds per game and shot .867 from the free throw line.

“She’s a pure shooter,’’ Fortier said. “Mechanically, what she does from the waist up, (her shots) come off the same every time and have a good chance of going in. The thing with her is, everyone applauds her for her scoring, but she has don a good job on the glass. This is a good growth year for her.’’

In its opening game on Friday, Saint Mary’s will trot out three active 1,000-point career scorers for the first time in program history in Stella Beck, Megan McKay and Sydney Raggio.

“It’s great, it really is,’’ Thomas said. “It’s an honor to coach three great people, each with 1,000 points. It’s a tremendous accolade. It comes down to getting the ball to the right person. We talk about that all the time. You make your teammates better. When we do that, we play seamless basketball, and it’s pleasing to the eye.’’

Though they finished down in the standings, both Pepperdine and Pacific have all-conference players. Yasmine Robinson-Bacote averaged 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Waves while GeAnna Luaulu-Summers scored at a 16.9 clip for the Tigers.

In Friday’s other quarterfinal games, 3 BYU plays 6 San Diego while 4 Loyola Marymount takes on 5 San Francisco, the winners moving on to the semifinals on Monday.

BYU has two all-conference players in guards Cassie Devashrayee, the WCC’s leading scorer (19.3), and Brenna Chase. San Diego has an All-WCC player in guard Aubrey Ward-El.

For LMU, junior transfer Gabby Green was named the WCC’s Newcomer of the Year for the versatility she brought to the Lions, a big reason they improved to 19-10 and 11-7 this season. Green averaged 13.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.2 steals for the season. USF’s Michaela Rakova was the leading rebounder in the conference at 10.1.

Fans of WCC basketball, men and women both, were sure to notice that the same three schools went 1-2-3 at the end of the regular season, they being Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU. What’s more, the Gonzaga men and women were both 17-1 in conference play while BYU’s men and women each posted 11-7 marks. The only inconsistency was at Saint Mary’s, where the men were 16-2 while the women were 13-5.

Coincidence, or the result of basketball being emphasized for both genders?

“That’s a very good question,’’ Thomas said. “We work very hard in our program to be the very best we can. I don’t think our tools (read: facilities) are equal to Gonzaga’s and BYU’s. They both have new practice facilities. But, 100 percent, having men’s and women’s basketball successful together says a lot about the WCC because it’s the main sport. It speaks volumes.

“When we have recruits on campus, we talk about our whole athletic department’s success. However, when mom and dad say, ‘Oh, I see your men’s program is doing well.’ We are tremendously proud of our men’s program.’’

For her part, Fortier said, “It’s a funny coincidence. It seems like the last few years it’s some combination of those three. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a great honor to have us both on top. What a great place to be a student and have … a big-time basketball environment.’’

Bring on the WCC Tournament.


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