(SportsNetwork.com) It was business as usual for the Gonzaga Bulldogs this season in West Coast Conference play, as the ‘Zags won their 13th regular- season title in the last 14 years.
Gonzaga will be the top overall seed heading into the 28th-annual West Coadet Conference Tournament, which starts Thursday, March 6, and will run through Tuesday, March 11.
The winner of the event will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament later this month.
This time last year, Gonzaga (25-6 in 2013-14) had just been voted the Associated Press’ top overall team in the country, which gave the Bulldogs a spot in the national tournament regardless of whether they won the WCC Tournament. This season the ‘Zags aren’t in nearly as good of a position, but it’s certainly not a bad one either. The Bulldogs finished with a 15-3 mark in conference play, losing to Portland (82-73) on the road, BYU (73-65) on the road and then to San Diego (69-66) again away from their home court.
So the West Coast Conference Tournament this season isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as it was last year, especially with teams like BYU and Saint Mary’s always breathing down the necks of the Bulldogs.
With the top seed in the conference, Gonzaga will receive a bye into the quarterfinal round of the tournament, and will play on Saturday against the winner of Santa Clara and Pacific.
BYU (21-10, 13-5 WCC) and San Francisco (20-10, 13-5) will be the second and third seeds, respectively. With a season sweep of San Francisco, BYU gets the No. 2 seed despite the identical 13-5 league records. BYU will await the winner of Loyola Marymount and Portland in the quarterfinal round.
Only the top two seeds are waiting for their opponents to be decided by first- round matchups. San Francisco and fourth-seeded Saint Mary’s (21-10, 11-7) automatically advance to the quarterfinal round. The Dons will tangle with the sixth-seeded San Diego Toreros (16-15, 7-11) in the first quarterfinal clash, and the Gaels will take on fifth-seed Pepperdine (15-15, 8-10) in the late matchup. There’s a distinct possibility that Gonzaga, BYU or Saint Mary’s could earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament without the automatic qualifier.
The first round of the tournament, taking place on Thursday, is between the bottom four seeds and will decide Gonzaga’s and BYU’s opponent. The 10th- seeded Loyola Marymount Lions (12-18, 4-14) will play the seventh-seeded Portland Pilots (15-15, 7-11), and the Santa Clara Broncos (13-18, 6-12) will clash with the eighth-seeded Pacific Tigers (15-14, 6-12).
First-round play kicks off with Loyola Marymount against Portland. The Lions struggled yet again this season, losing 14 of their 18 conference games. LMU defeated BYU and San Diego to start conference play, then proceeded to lose its next six contests. The Lions dropped their regular-season finale to San Francisco, 65-61, at home, and dropped two contests to Portland during the season. The tournament hasn’t been kind to the Lions in recent years, as they enter this postseason with an all-time WCC Tourney record of 18-24, and without a title since the 1990 season. LMU sported a conference-worst scoring defense, allowing 77.3 ppg to opponents, and had a minus-3.8 ppg scoring margin. Anthony Ireland was the lone bright spot for the Lions, averaging a team-best and second-in-conference 18.7 ppg with a team-high 161 assists on the year. Evan Payne chipped in 15.4 ppg, and Gabe Levin added 11.1 ppg.
Portland also tripped and stumbled its way into the postseason after losing the last four regular-season games the team played, including a tough 68-65 loss to Pacific in Saturday’s finale. The Pilots have won one conference title – back in 1996 – and have been demolished in the tournament in history, owning a 10-25 record. The Pilots did manage to average 75.4 ppg – good for third in the conference – and had a 39.1 shooting percentage from 3-point range. Ryan Nicholas topped the team and the West Coast Conference in rebounding during the season at 8.7 rpg, while Thomas van der Mars added an eighth-best 7.1 rpg mark in the league (second on Portland). Kevin Bailey notched 16.5 ppg to lead the Pilots, while van der Mars chipped in 13.3 ppg and Nicholas scored 12.9 ppg. Van der Mars netted a team-high 60.9 percent of his field goal attempts this season, which was second in the conference standings. Bailey is listed as questionable to play with a strained calf.
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