LAS VEGAS – A year ago at the WCC women’s basketball tournament, Portland coach Jim Sollars stated that Gonzaga was the best team in conference history.
His opinion has changed this season.
“I think they’re better than they were last year, surprisingly enough,” said Sollars, whose fourth-seeded Pilots (17-14) will face the top-seeded Bulldogs (26-4) in the semifinals today after eliminating Santa Clara 75-64 Saturday at the Orleans Arena. “They play well together, they’re well-coached and they’ve got a great point guard (Courtney Vandersloot) who is probably the best point guard in the history of the conference. Hopefully (Portland junior) ReZina TecleMariam will take over that mantle next year.
“We’re going to try to make them a little more humble tomorrow.”
The No. 2-seeded Gonzaga men (22-9) will face No. 3 San Francisco in the men’s semifinals tonight. The Dons (17-13) downed Pepperdine (12-21) 76-59 late Saturday night. No. 1 Saint Mary’s (23-7) meets No. 4 Santa Clara (19-13), which defeated No. 5 Loyola Marymount 76-68, in the other semifinal.
Sollars, in his 25th season at Portland, has a pretty good grasp of WCC history. His powerhouse teams in the mid-1990s were considered among the best ever in the WCC before the Bulldogs’ recent run. He also hired GU head coach Kelly Graves away from Big Bend Community College as a Pilots assistant in 1993.
Graves, who has guided Gonzaga to seven straight WCC regular-season titles, and Sollars are close friends and talk frequently. Graves was impressed with Portland’s adjustments with a couple of post players out of the lineup. TecleMariam scored 28 points, Natalie Day added 17 points and 11 rebounds and Gonzaga Prep product Tara Cronin added 12 points to surpass 1,000 in her career.
“Aside from us, they’re the next best scoring team in the conference and they have four or five kids who have scored 20 in a game,” Graves said. “And they make them three (points) at a time, that’s always a concern. Offensively they can do a lot of things. Where we have to make them pay is at their defensive end.
“I notice without (Lauren) Angel (concussion) as a post-up threat, they’re posting up TecleMariam and Cronin more. That’s a concern because TecleMariam is a big, strong kid and we put Courtney on her typically.”
Portland’s win was its first in the tournament since 2004. Gonzaga swept the Pilots 81-55 and 87-67 in the regular season.
In the other semifinal, No. 2 Saint Mary’s takes on No. 7 San Diego, a 77-68 winner over No. 3 Pepperdine.
On the men’s side, Gonzaga and San Francisco split two regular-season meetings. Junior wing Rashad Green had 16 points and the Dons made 64 percent of their shots in building a 42-35 halftime lead.
Angelo Caloiaro’s 3-pointer stretched USF’s lead to 12 early in the second half. Marko Petrovic’s 3 gave USF a 60-46 lead with 8:10 remaining.
“They stretch you out by making 3s, Williams got hot, Green hit his 3s and Caloiaro is really driving the ball effectively,” Gonzaga assistant coach Donny Daniels said. “We’re going to have our hands full.
“We have to defend the dribble and take away their post feeds. (Forward Perris) Blackwell didn’t play in the game at our place (due to illness), but he was definitely a factor in this game. We’re going to have to make them take difficult 2s (two-pointers) and we’re going to have to find a way to score against them.”
USF shot 55.6 percent from the field and made 9 of 21 3-pointers. Pepperdine was limited to 32.1 percent shooting.
Green made four 3s and scored 23 points. Williams added 14 and Petrovic 11.