LAS VEGAS – The Gonzaga men’s basketball team wouldn’t have been surprised with its semifinal matchup no matter how the Loyola Marymount-San Francisco game turned out at the West Coast Conference tournament.
LMU and USF both had 7-7 records in the WCC regular season and each went 1-1 vs. Gonzaga, but it was the fifth-seeded Lions who earned a third meeting with No. 1 Gonzaga. The Lions (18-14) eliminated No. 4 San Francisco 84-76 Saturday at the Orleans Arena. In the other semifinal, No. 2 Saint Mary’s faces No. 3 Portland. The Pilots defeated No. 6 San Diego 72-57. T.J. Campbell led the Pilots with 15 points and Jared Stohl added 13.
“LMU is playing with a lot of belief and a lot of scrappiness right now,” said Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, who had the scouting report for both GU-LMU regular-season games. “We’re definitely going to have to come out and first and foremost play with great effort.”
On the women’s side, Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves is surprised by his team’s opponent – and delighted for their coach. No. 8-seeded Santa Clara, coached by ex-Zags player and assistant coach Jennifer Mountain, posted its second upset in as many days, knocking off No. 4 Portland 74-61.
The Broncos (5-26) meet the top-seeded Bulldogs (25-4) at 11:30 a.m. No. 3 Pepperdine meets No. 2 Saint Mary’s in the other semifinal.
“Oh my goodness, yes, I am proud (of Mountain),” Graves said of his assistant from 2001-08. “I’ve been through seasons like that, too, and it’s really tough to keep your kids motivated. Sometimes they think, ‘Let’s just get this season over.’ But she told me all the time that they were still working hard.”
SCU forward Lena Gipson, who started her career at Arizona State, had 23 points and 15 rebounds and Alyssa Shoji added 15 points. The Broncos outscored Portland 43-25 in the second half. Tara Cronin (Gonzaga Prep) had 10 points and four rebounds for the Pilots.
Mountain recruited many of Gonzaga’s players.
“Obviously, I know their players inside and out,” said Mountain, whose team lost to Gonzaga by 38 and 31. “We’re going to try to exploit their weaknesses.”
Veteran Portland coach Jim Sollars doesn’t see many GU weaknesses.
“Probably not,” Sollars replied, when asked if Santa Clara might give the Bulldogs problems. “In all honestly, Gonzaga is the best women’s team in the history of this conference.”
The LMU men trailed 50-44 early in the second half, but shot their way back, making 54 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes. Drew Viney and Vernon Teel each scored 18 points and Ashley Hamilton added 14.
“It’s a hell of a lot better than playing one night in a row,” Lions coach Max Good said of facing three games in three nights. “I don’t give a damn if we’re playing the Milwaukee Bucks and the Celtics and the Lakers on consecutive nights, we owe it to ourselves to compete.”