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WCC Women’s Tournament Preview

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The Zags vs the Field

The Gonzaga women will look to regain their crown when the WCC Women’s tournament tips off on Thursday night. After a dramatic overtime win over Saint Mary’s in the semi-finals last year, the Bulldogs dropped the title game to BYU because of injury and exhaustion. This year, Gonzaga ripped through the WCC and cleared everyone by four games in the standings. Despite Katie Campbell’s injury and a late season loss to Saint Mary’s, Lisa Fortier’s squad is the heavy favorite to cut down the nets in Las Vegas.

The first four rounds are all available on regional sports networks like ROOT NW, but also online at theW.tv. The championship game will be Tuesday at 1 pm on ESPNU.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-2, 17-1)

Summary: With two wins, Gonzaga will secure a top four seed, and most likely a three seed, in the NCAA Tournament. With that, they get to host the first two rounds at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The team is starting to find their footing after losing Campbell to injury. All-Freshman selection Kayleigh Truong has admirably stepped into the starting lineup and the senior leadership of Jessie Loera at the point has steadied the team. Jenn Wirth was a first team all-league selection with her 10.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

Player to Watch: Jill Townsend was named WCC Player of the Year. After suffering a brutal leg injury in the semi-finals last year, she returned better than ever this season. The Okanogan product led the team with 12.2 points a game and shot 42 percent from deep.

Key Stat: Gonzaga holds opponents to just 51.3 points per game, second best in the entire country.

2. San Diego Toreros (19-10, 13-5)

Summary: Nobody shocked the league more than USD. Last year, they finished 2-16 in conference play. This year, Cindy Fisher took home Coach of the Year honors after a remarkable 11 game improvement and a bye into the semi-finals. They don’t do it with a great offense, but rather a stifling defense that keeps them in every game they play.

Player to Watch: Myah Pace received All-League honors after leading the team in scoring with 11.6 points. She also added five rebounds, three assists and three steals a game.

Key Stat: San Diego led the WCC in steals (11.3) and turnover margin (+4.9), but finished dead last in threes made (3.4).

3. BYU Cougars (18-10, 13-5)

Summary: The Cougars lost part of their three-headed monster before the season when Shaylee Gonzales went down with a knee injury. Paisley Johnson and Brenna Drollinger-Chase did their best to keep the team afloat. They finished the season winning five of six and look to be peaking at the right time. They lost both games to Gonzaga after beating them all three times a year ago.

Player to Watch: Both Johnson and Chase were selected to the First Team All-WCC, but Johnson is the one to watch. She averaged 15.2 points a game and was the MVP of last year’s tournament after pouring in 19 in the title game.

Key Stat: 6’7 center Sara Hamson won Defensive Player of the Year honors after blocking a nation-best 133 shots.

4. Portland Pilots (18-11, 11-7)

Summary: Another huge surprise this year, the Pilots went from bottom of the league to fourth under first year head coach Michael Meek. Portland led the league in scoring, averaging 69.4 points and in field goal percentage at 45 percent. The Pilots have not beat Gonzaga in their last 23 tries, but they led GU for 35 minutes in their first match-up and stayed within striking distance until the final minutes in their second game. But they would have to beat Pacific first, who they lost to twice in the regular season.

Player to Watch: Freshman Alex Fowler was named Newcomer of the Year and first team All-League after scoring 17.5 points a game. She scored 20 or more points nine times during conference play.

Key Stat: Portland is the only team with three players in the top 10 of scoring. Fowler led the league, Haylee Andrews (15.9 ppg) reached double-figures in all but two games this season, and Kate Anderson added 14 a game.

5. Pacific Tigers (16-13, 9-9)

Summary: The Tigers have perhaps the most talented scorer in the league in Valerie Higgins. The two-time All-League selection finished second in the league in scoring with 16.5 points, but also finished second in rebounds (9.1) and led the league in steals (3.8). The problem is that she sat out the final three games with injury. With her, Pacific has a chance to surprise Gonzaga in a semi-final game. Without her, they could bow out early.

Player to Watch: If Higgins is out, more responsibility will be placed on All-League forward Brooklyn McDavid, who scored in double figures in nine of their final 10 games.

Key Stat: Without Higgins the final three games, Pacific only had five steals a game after averaging 10 a game prior to her injury.

6. Pepperdine Waves (14-14, 8-10)

Summary: Kristen Dowling had a wild ride in her first year as head coach. The Waves started 3-6 before winning five straight and put themselves in a position for a top seed. Then they lost their final four games to finish in sixth. Pepperdine is last in field goal percentage and second to last in field goal defense, which is not a recipe for success.

Player to Watch: Senior guard Barbara Sitanggan was named All-League after averaging 10 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.3 steals.

Key Stat: The Waves are last in the league in defensive rebounding, but second in offensive rebounds per game.

7. Saint Mary’s (11-18, 6-12)

Summary: The Gaels had the best win of the season when they upset Gonzaga last month. Unfortunately, that was their lone bright spot. They lost 12 of the final 14 games, and finished in the back half of the standings, which ended their streak of eight-straight 20 win seasons.

Player to Watch: Sophomore All-WCC selection Sam Simmons finished third in the league in scoring at 16 points, and finished fifth in made threes.

Key Stat: The Gaels were dead last in scoring defense, giving up nearly 72 points a game.

8. Santa Clara (11-18, 5-13)

Summary: The Broncos suffered a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season when their star player Tia Hay went out with injury. They finished with wins in two of their final three games, including an upset over San Diego. They were picked fifth in the pre-season poll, and at full health, could pull off an upset or two.

Player to Watch: As evidenced by their losing streak, Hay stirs the drink for the Broncos. She led the team in scoring at 12.4 points and led the league in free throw percentage at 85 percent.

Key Stat: Santa Clara was second in the league in scoring with 69 points thanks in part to the second most made threes in the league (7.2).

9. San Francisco Dons (12-18, 5-13)

Summary: The Dons lost their first nine games of the conference season due to an inexperienced roster. They improved throughout the year and finished with wins over BYU, SMC, and Pacific at the end of the year. This could be a young team peaking at the right time.

Player to Watch: Mikayla Williams led the team with 14.9 points and added 8.8 rebounds. The Dons had three players average double figures.

Key Stat: Leilah Vigil led the league with 10.2 rebounds, the only player to get double digit boards.

10. Loyola Marymount Lions (7-24, 3-15)

Summary: It’s been a rough second half for LMU. Their leading scorer, Chelsea Gibson, has been out with a concussion and they lost their final 11 games. Gibson’s status for the tournament is unknown, but she leaves a 13 ppg hole in their lineup.

Player to Watch: Without Gibson, Ciera Ellington has stepped up. She averaged 11.1 points this season, but 15 a game the final three contests.

Key Stat: The Lions are last in the league with 17.4 turnovers per game.