With time to sit and watch the first two days of the West Coast Conference women’s basketball tournament unfold, Kelly Graves, coach of five-time regular-season champion Gonzaga, found something to worry about before the competition even began.
“We don’t have a chance to shoot on the court until the morning of our game,” he said. “We’re playing somebody that has at least one game, maybe two, on the court. We play 30-some games on a lot of different venues, so it shouldn’t affect our kids, but it can.”
That’s still a lot better than previous WCC tournaments.
This year’s tournament, which started Friday, is at a neutral site, the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, for the first time. Additionally, the women have adopted the same format as the men: The top four teams get a first-round bye with the top two seeds getting a second free pass into the semifinals.
“I’m not sure it will (help). We haven’t been in this position before,” Graves said. “It’s a long week (off). When you’re playing well you want to continue to play. But our players get everyone’s best shot every night so they’re mentally tired.
“I was never adamant (about the format) one way or the other. I went with the (other coaches). Then I became more of a proponent. It was needed. I think you need to reward the (champion).”
The Zags (24-6) join the fray at noon Sunday.
During their championship run, the Bulldogs have only won the tournament once to advance to the NCAA tournament.
In 2005, when they were 14-0, league MVP Shannon Mathews sprained her ankle in the semifinals and was hobbled for the championship game, which they lost to Santa Clara on the Broncos’ floor.
In 2006, GU tied for the lead at 11-3, but in reality that was a bit of overachieving for a rebuilding team and a tournament loss wasn’t a surprise, although losing in the first round to a No. 7 seed in Spokane probably was.
In 2007, the Zags won it all, in Portland with the eighth-seeded Pilots their first-round foe.
Last year the Zags went 13-1 in league but lost to a completely comfortable San Diego team on the Toreros’ home floor.
“We’ve tried to approach it the same each year; maybe I need to change my approach,” Graves said. “We have to do everything we can not to make our players feel pressure. We’re not changing anything we do during the week but we talked about fact we need to amp it up just a little bit more because everybody else is.
“There are no surprises. Everybody is who they are. We’ve seen everybody twice. Ultimately, it is about the team that just goes down and plays best.”
As the top seed, the Zags (24-6, 12-2) face the winner of today’s game between No. 8 Santa Clara (4-26), which opened Friday with an upset over No. 5 Saint Mary’s, and No. 4 Loyola Marymount (17-11).
The Bulldogs had no trouble with the Broncos, winning 65-57 and 92-63.
After whipping LMU 83-58 at home, GU had to rally from 15 down at halftime for an 81-78 road win.
The teams that beat them in league play are No. 2 Portland and No. 3 Pepperdine.
Santa Clara 82, Saint Mary’s 55: Lena Gipson had 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to lead the Broncos (4-26) to an upset over the Gaels (11-19).
“It was a well-deserved victory for our players,” said head coach Jennifer Mountain, a former assistant at GU. “They battled so hard all season long and we finally were able to put one together.”
San Diego 73, San Francisco 64: Senior forward Kiva Herman scored 16 of her game-high 20 points in the second half to rally the Toreros (17-12) past the Dons (7-22).
San Diego 62, Loyola Marymount 56: Gyno Pomare scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Toreros (16-5) over the Lions (3-28), who set a school record for losses. Roberto Mafra added a career-high 14 points and six rebounds for San Diego.
Pepperdine 93, San Francisco 85: Mike Hornbuckle scored 25 points, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, to lead the Waves (9-22) over the Dons (11-19).
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