Crumpacker: A Wide Open Women's Season Awaits #WCChoops
A look at the West Coast Conference entering league action
By John Crumpacker #WCChoops Columnist
As West Coast Conference women’s basketball teams prepare for the start of league play today, Charity Elliott at Loyola Marymount and Paul Thomas at Saint Mary’s must feel pretty good about their teams based on non-conference results.
And you, too, Cindy Fisher at San Diego and Lisa Fortier at Gonzaga.
All four coaches have a lot going for them if their non-conference results are to be believed. LMU is 8-3, San Diego is 7-3 and Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga are 7-4. Lurking just behind is Pacific at 6-5, coached by Bradley Davis and captained by guard GeAnna Luaulu-Summers.
The best game of opening day appears to be Saint Mary’s at LMU for very early bragging rights in the WCC. Which team will prevail, LMU with its across-the-board excellence, or Saint Mary’s with the most productive trio of players in the WCC in forwards Sydney Raggio and Megan McKay and guard Stella Beck?
The Lions are among the league leaders in scoring margin (+7.2), field goal percentage defense (.372), blocked shots per game (3.4) and 3-point field goals made per game (5.8). Individually, Cheyanne Wallace is scoring 17.4 points per game while Cal transfer Gabby Green contributes 15.4 points and 4.5 assists.
“We really feel like last year we took some huge strides as far as learning how to win,’’ said Elliott, whose LMU team finished 14-16 overall and 9-9 in the WCC. “We have our culture where we want it. We won some games. We want to be more consistent. We learned a lot of lessons last year. For our transfers (Green prime among them) to sit out and learn about the conference and what it takes was valuable.’’
Green, a 6-foot-2 guard described by USD’s Fisher as a “scouting nightmare,’’ sat out 2016-17 after transferring from Cal. She’s now all in on her new school and new conference.
“Right now, we recognize we were around .500 (last season),’’ she said. “We have huge goals. We work every day to get those goals. We have a good understanding of the talent we have. We can be really special if we put all the pieces together and we click at the right time, so we can be as successful as we can be.’’
The Gaels, meanwhile, must present a defensive nightmare for opponents. Who, exactly, is the focus of an opponent’s scouting report? Raggio, scoring 14.9 points per game? McKay, at 14.5? Or Beck, at 14.0? All three are marksmen, or rather, markswomen. Beck is shooting .582 from the field, Raggio .578 and McKay .571. Good luck devising a defensive game play for that holy trinity.
“The outlook is very positive,’’ Thomas said. “I think the team has an opportunity to be more consistent than the last couple of seasons. Stella is the catalyst out there. Stella’s a pretty steady person on the court. Syd’s a steady kid. McKay is a steady person. It’s not a guessing game each day with this group.’’
Another potentially telling game on opening night is Gonzaga at Pacific, 7-4 vs. 6-5 and an early leg up in the conference standings. The Zags are getting their full scholarship value out of 6-foot-3 forward Jill Barta, the sweetest-shooter player in the WCC. She’s averaging 19.2 points and is No. 1 in the conference in rebounding (9.6) and free throw percentage (.887).
Pacific counters with Luaulu-Summers, the crafty guard who is first in the WCC in assists (5.7) and steals (2.7) per game while scoring at a 16.1 clip. Her backcourt mate, 5-6 Ameela Li, is accomplished in her own right as she contributes 11.5 points, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
Another opener of interest is San Diego at San Francisco, where the Toreros will put their 7-3 record on the line against a Dons team (5-6) looking for a .500 record on the first day of conference play. USD coach Fisher will be sorry to see stalwart Maya Hood leave. She’s been the mainstay of the program for five years and is finishing off her final season as a graduate student, averaging 12.4 points.
“We’re super excited to have Maya back,’’ Fisher said, referring to Hood’s injury-shortened senior season in 2016-17. “Her experience, her leadership is a huge plus for us. Losing her last year really took a lot of wind out of us.’’
The Dons finished non-conference play with a 3-2 home record and are driven by a balanced attack. Forward Michaela Rakova uses her 6-3 height to produce 12.1 points and 8. 7 rebounds per game while guards Anna Seilund (14.0) and Shannon Powell (11.4) are efficient in the back court.
Another 5-6 team looking for level par in the conference opener is BYU, playing at Portland (4-7) tonight. The Cougars have the leading scorer in the conference (20.1) in guard Cassie Devashrayee, the WCC’s Player of the Year in 2016-17.
The Pilots, meanwhile, are getting 35 points per game from three players – Darian Slaga (12.6), Julie Spencer (12.1) and Kate Anderson (10.7), with Spencer the team’s top rebounder at 6.8 per game.
The first conference opener, an afternoon special at 4 p.m., features two teams looking to put disappointing non-conference results behind them when Santa Clara (4-7) plays at Pepperdine (4-6).
For the Waves, junior forward Yasmine Robinson-Bacote is the second-leading scorer in the conference at 19.8 per game. As a team, Santa Clara excels at taking the ball away from its opponents, its 9.7 steals per game leading the WCC. Forward Morgan McGwire contributes 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for the Broncos.
“The beautiful thing about Morgan is she comes to work every day,’’ Broncos coach Bill Carr said. “She worked as hard as anyone I’ve seen over the spring and summer to improve her game.’’
Improvement is what both Pepperdine and Santa Clara are looking for as conference play begins today.