LAS VEGAS – First lesson of the West Coast Conference tournament – never underestimate the underdog.
There are plenty of them at Orleans Arena this week, and most of them are looking to put a stop to the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs.
First up was the eighth-seeded Pepperdine Waves, who attempted to knock off the Zags in a quarterfinal showing on Friday. It wasn’t a promising task in the first half as the Zags built up a 29-point lead. But clearly, Gonzaga misjudged Pepperdine’s will to fight back.
After the half, the Zags relaxed on the defensive end and allowed their offense to sputter. The Waves cut the lead to single digits, but the Zags were able to hold on long enough for an 81-70 win.
“We were going a little bit individual with our offensive options,” head coach Lisa Fortier said on Friday. “We didn’t defend very well, we didn’t defend the 3 very well in the … fourth quarter.”
That effort might have barely got the Zags by an eighth seed, but such mistakes will be difficult to right in the semifinals against the next underdog – fifth-seeded San Francisco.
The Dons advanced to Monday’s semifinals after defeating No.4 seed Loyola Marymount 89-76 in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Dons were messy on ball control and piled up 20 turnovers, but their 14 3-pointers, a WCC Tournament record, kept them in the lead for most of the game.
Gonzaga’s concerns on Monday will be with San Francisco’s Anna Seilund, who was unstoppable against LMU and put up six 3s en route to a game-high 28 points and six assists.
“We’ve got to shut down Seilund. She’s definitely a threat,” Gonzaga forward Jill Barta said.
The Zags did well at defending Seilund in the regular season. In the first meeting between Gonzaga and the Dons on Jan. 13, Seilund was held to just six points on three field goals.
In a rematch two weeks later in which the Zags won 81-57, Gonzaga relaxed its grip on the guard. She responded with 16 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Seilund, who was named to the All-WCC first team last week, leads the Dons with 15.3 points and two 3-pointers per game. She also creates plenty of opportunities for her teammates, averaging 5.1 assists, second-most in the conference.
Fortier will likely assign senior guard Emma Stach to Seilund. Stach has been one of Gonzaga’s best defenders this season along the perimeter.
Another option could be backup guard Jessie Loera, who thrives on the defensive end. She’s the smallest on the team at 5-foot-6, but she’s the quickest of the Zags. Like Stach, she does well at defending the perimeter and is second on the team with 31 steals.
Barta and Zykera Rice will also need to do well at protecting the rim from San Francisco forward Michaela Rakova, who averages a double-double with 13.1 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The winner will advance to the championship to play either No. 6 seed San Diego or No. 7 Pacific on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
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