December 18, 2020 

WCC check-in: The other side of history

Pacific enjoys benefits of big night for Stanford; Ioanna Krimili keeps on dominating

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Valerie Higgins. (Photo: Esther Perez / Pacific Athletics)

As season openers go, Tuesday was more or less what Pacific wanted.

The place was right — at home. The opponent was solid — Stanford. For a matchup that was originally meant to take place on the road, having it at home was an improvement. The upgrades kept coming as the Tigers learned they’d be welcoming the No. 1 team in the country, and that the game would be broadcast on ESPN2. A nationally-televised WCC women’s basketball game, at home, in December? Basically unheard of.

Stanford’s win was, perhaps, a foregone conclusion, no matter when or where the game took place. But if Pacific had gotten the Cardinal when it wanted them, back on Nov. 29, what happened as a result of the win wouldn’t have — Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer’s record-breaking 1,099th career victory — and neither would the exposure.

“These are the games they were dreaming of playing in [as kids],” Pacific head coach Bradley Davis said. “And the only thing we talked about was now that the opportunity was there, to not let it go by without working our tails off.”

For its first game of the season, thanks to a series of COVID-related delays on both the Tigers’ side and on what was meant to be their first opponents’, Pacific looked as solid as advertised despite missing four players — three of them freshmen — due to delayed contact tracing efforts.

Preseason all-WCC picks and seniors Brooklyn McDavid and Valerie Higgins scored 14 and 10 points, respectively, while fellow senior Lianna Tillman (who started 12 games a season ago) led with a team-high 15 points.

And the Tigers even hung in there to start, as they have a tendency to do against any and all competition, keeping Stanford at arm’s length throughout the first half. But though only down 11 at halftime after winning the second quarter, they were outscored 61-29 in the second half after VanDerveer, ever the Hall of Famer, gave her team a talking-to during the break.

“I think our team hasn’t played a team that is as physical as Pacific is,” VanDerveer said. “I think that the physicality kind of just, we didn’t throw the first punch, they did. I think I just talked to our team at halftime about being more physical. I thought Pacific did really well. This was their first game. I think we just wore them down.”

“You have to be proud of your team for that,” Davis said of Pacific’s first-half performance. “The things we need we need to fix, a lot of it has to do with fatigue and that’s understandable given our situation. But if we are going to be the team that we want to be, we have to be able to do that for 40 [minutes].”

The logistics of the game aside, for Pacific, getting the chance to play this caliber of opponent on national television was a big draw.

“There was definitely some excitement,” Higgins said. “When you play, you definitely want to play against the best. This was a great opportunity for us, and there’s a lot we can learn from this game.”

Added Tillman, “We were all excited. We wanted to compete, and we wanted to show who we were. We knew it would be tough.”

Certainly, Pacific would have preferred to have some of its first scheduled games work out before facing the country’s top team. But against the Cardinal, it could see exactly which areas of its game it needs to focus on — rebounding and turnovers being key — before regrouping and facing its next opponent.

The exposure will be different, the atmosphere won’t quite be the same, but after getting to have this experience, it won’t need to be the same for the Tigers to build upon the stellar education they just received.

Around the WCC

  • You again? San Francisco’s Ioanna Krimili continues to impress, as she averaged 24 points per game in the Dons’ win at Cal and a double-overtime victory against Fresno State. But the conference couldn’t just give Krimili Freshman of the Week again — no, it made her Freshman of the Week and Player of the Week.

  • After an 0-4 start, Saint Mary’s finally picked up its first win of the season at UC Irvine on Wednesday, a game that saw 10 ties and 15 lead changes en route to the Gaels finally prevailing 67-64. Redshirt freshman Finau Tonga led everyone with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and the Gaels even saw a second double-digit rebounder as senior Brianna Simonich pulled down 10 of her own.

  • Gonzaga is still clinging to its spot in the top 25 after a tough home win against Montana last Sunday. Neither team had a fantastic shooting day, but the Bulldogs capitalized on turnovers and crashed the offensive glass more effectively than the Lady Griz, leading to the closer-than-expected victory.

  • Despite falling to Montana State on Thursday, Portland still saw several highlight-reel individual performances, as sophomore Alex Fowler scored a season-high 31 points and junior Haylee Andrews was on triple-double watch with a final line of 16 points, seven assists and eight rebounds.

  • A thorn in the side of many teams in its short Division I tenure, Cal Baptist (who joined D-I in 2018) handed Pepperdine its first loss of the season on Tuesday. Senior Monique Andriuolo led all scorers with 21 points, while redshirt sophomore (and WCC twin) Jayda Ruffus-Milner pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. It’s unclear when Pepperdine will get another non-conference opportunity before WCC play begins — though it’s trying to find one — as its weekend game against Cal State Fullerton has been postponed.

  • San Diego’s Thursday night game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues on Long Beach State’s side, so the Toreros will follow the lead of Saint Mary’s and plan to see UC Irvine on Sunday. They played well at Arizona State over the weekend, including going 5-for-10 from three, but fell 64-55.

See complete results from the WCC’s recent games here.

Upcoming notable games

Subject to change. The complete schedule can be found at the link above.

Before the WCC Tournament (maybe) tips off in March, three programs are heading out to Vegas early to test the waters in two tournaments. Both Pacific and LMU are slated to take on LSU and UNLV, while Gonzaga faces Eastern Michigan and North Alabama in its weekend set.

Each team will head into these games with different focuses. Coming off the Stanford game, Pacific’s next two contests look to be manageable challenges to see where it is as a team when it’s not playing the best program in the country. LMU, meanwhile, hasn’t played for two weeks, and will certainly have to confront rustiness, while Gonzaga’s biggest goal will be to try to pick up two straightforward wins and cement a winning streak headed into the conference season.

  • Sunday, Dec. 28: WCC conference play begins

I’ll have more for you on the conference season closer to the day, but until then, need a refresher? Circle back to our conference preview, guide to must-see games and the previous WCC check-ins (Dec. 5, Dec. 11) here at The Next.

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