The WCC returns to the Orleans Arena for the second year of its tournament format which staggers the competitive entries of the conference’s top seeds. This format works well, rewarding the top teams for good play over the regular season by limiting the number of games they are required to play in the tournament and reducing the wear and tear for the players from an otherwise condensed schedule.
Gonzaga won’t play until Monday night in the semifinals, but that doesn’t mean the action hasn’t started.
Loyola Marymount and San Diego tipped off the action in the 8/9 game for the first round of the tournament, with the Lions snagging a 75-61 win thanks to a stellar effort by freshman bruiser Keli Leaupepe who notched 23 points with 10 rebounds. LMU rode a 14-2 run the final six minutes of the first half to separate from the Toreros, and it was enough to carry them to victory.
The second game of Day 1 featured 7th-seeded Santa Clara easily getting past 10th-seeded Portland by a score of 76-62, though the game was not as close as that scoreline may indicate. The Broncos got out of the gates quickly, taking a 19-8 lead by the second media timeout before closing out the first half with an 11-0 run to take a commanding 42-23 lead at the break. With the prospect of another game on Friday, the Broncos didn’t push themselves too hard in the second half but still secured the win without much trouble.
Thursday’s winners were unable to replicate their success in the second round of the tournament, each falling to higher-seeded San Francisco and Pepperdine respectively.
On Gonzaga’s side of the bracket, the Dons crushed LMU in the Friday night opener to the tune of 82-53 without shooting the ball well from the three-point line (7-25). Four different USF players scored in double figures, and the Dons had a decided advantage in rebounds (38-24), turnovers (7-14), and assists (14-7). It was a tough season for the Lions, but they should have a much stronger campaign next season with the return of 7-3 center Mattias Markusson to pair with Eli Scott and Leaupepe. USF will play Pacific on Saturday night in what should be a tight affair for the right to play Gonzaga in the semifinals.
The Friday nightcap saw Pepperdine blitz the Broncos with an 18-3 run to open the game and take a 17-point lead at halftime, though Santa Clara made a big push in the second half before falling 84-73. All five Pepperdine starters scored in double figures, led by a big performance from Kameron Edwards who had 21 points and 16 rebounds. Colbey Ross finished with 18 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds, but also had 7 turnovers. Foul trouble nearly doomed the Waves, but they did enough to keep Santa Clara at arm’s length and advance to the quarterfinals where they will play Saint Mary’s.