March 8, 2022 

Inside the WCC Tournament’s Semifinal Monday

How BYU and Gonzaga advanced

LAS VEGAS — The Semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament are over and now all that’s left if for BYU and Gonzaga to battle it out for the WCC championship. The top two teams finally made their first appearance at Orleans Arena Monday and they didn’t disappoint. See how each semifinal went down and some thoughts on each team’s performance.

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March 7, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; BYU Cougars guard Maria Albiero (5) shoots the basketball against Portland Pilots forward Keeley Frawley (4) during the second half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. Photo Credit: Kyle Terada

No.1 BYU vs No. 4 Portland

BYU defeats Portland, 59-52.

Game Summary: Using a strong defensive performance and some key baskets down the stretch, BYU was able to stave off Portland 59-52. Portland came out strong against the No. 1 seeded Cougars. At the end of the first quarter, the Pilots led BYU 15-13. Portland held BYU to 35% shooting in the first and got eight early points off the bench from Maisie Burnham. The second quarter was back and forth with neither team being able to get a strong hold on the game. A buzzer beating layup by Shaylee Gonzales gave BYU a one-point lead at the break. Gonzales led all scorers with 14 at the half. The third quarter brought more of the same from the first half. The defensive battle continued but Portland was able to outscore the Cougars by one and create a tie game at 40 going into the final quarter. The teams battled early in the fourth, but Portland took a four-point lead with a three by Alex Fowler with just under six minutes remaining. BYU responded right away with a three from Teagan Graham on the next possesion. From that point on the Cougars would finish the game on a 14-6 run and advance to the conference championship.

My thoughts on BYU’s performance: The Cougars definitely looked rusty after not playing for eight days. They struggled to get their offense going and had some turnover issues caused by Portland’s press and matchup zone. However, BYU’s defense was strong and kept them in it. They never left Portland shot better than 33% in a quarter and made life very difficult for Alex Fowler. Down the stretch of the fourth quarter, BYU showed their experience and poise. They finished the game strong and got big baskets from their veteran players. WCC player of the year Shaylee Gonzales had 20 points and found a way to score when the Cougars needed it most. Teagan Graham hit a huge three and had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The Cougars showed their composure, finishing the game on a 14-6 run and finding a way to advance to the conference championship game. Jeff Judkins said that their defense won them this game.

“I thought we really defended, they scored, but we made them work for every single basket that they tried to get,” Judkins said. “I told these girls the first of the year, defense wins championships. There’s some nights the ball doesn’t go in and you have to defend.”

My thoughts on Portland’s performance: Portland had a stellar defensive performance, using their press and matchup zone to bother BYU. The team played with confidence from the jump and weren’t afraid playing the 15th ranked team in the country. While they didn’t have the prettiest game on offense, they were able to score and keep the pressure on BYU. While it wasn’t the greatest night for Fowler, the Pilots had both Lucy Cochrane and Maisie Burnham step up in a big way. Cochrane had 12 points, seven rebounds and eight blocks while Burnham added 17 points and drew eight fouls in the game. Portland is a good team and should get a shot at the WNIT. Cochrane said their defense worked so well because they were able to put pressure on BYU.

“I think we know we can get out and pressure teams, especially a team like BYU who is so good at shooting from the three-point line,” said Coachrane. “If we can take that away, it really helps us. I just know it’s my job to stay in the paint and make sure I contest all of their layups.

Kaylynne Truong drives against San Francisco in the WCC tournament semifinals. Photo Credit: Kyle Terada

No. 2 Gonzaga vs No. 3 San Francisco

Gonzaga defeats San Francisco, 69-55.

Game Summary: Behind a dominant showing on the glass and solid defense, Gonzaga was able to down San Francisco 69-55 and advance to the WCC championship game. The teams traded baskets through the first 6 minutes of the game. Gonzaga finished the quarter on an 8-2 run to take a seven-point lead after one. USF came out in the second quarter focused and used an 11-0 run to take four-point lead three minutes into the second. Gonzaga would respond with a run of their own, outscoring the Dons the rest of the way 14 to 5 and holding a 31-26 lead at the half. Gonzaga dominated the glass in the first half, outrebounding USF 25-16. The Bulldogs came out strong in the third using an 11-4 run to take a 12-point lead midway through the quarter. However, USF would respond with an 11-4 run themselves to make it a five-point game headed to the fourth. The Zags started the fourth on a 7-0 run and held on to down the Dons. Gonzaga will face BYU in the championship game on Tuesday.

My thoughts on Gonzaga’s performance: The Bulldogs beat the Dons by just six and one in the two regular season meetings, but Monday the Zags were able to win in a much more comfortable fashion. The Zags are known as a defensive team and their defense was the bright spot today. Gonzaga held USF to 55 points on just 29% shooting from the field. The Zags also just dominated on the boards, outrebounding USF 49-35. Every time the Dons went on a run, Gonzaga responded. The Zags experience showed throughout the game, every time they need to answer the bell, they did. Yvonne Ejim and Kaylynne Truong both had strong games off the bench. Ejim had 12 points and 14 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. Truong meanwhile had 18 points and shot a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line. The Zags have a ton of depth and have multiple players who can have big nights. Coach Fortier said the reason the Bulldogs were able to win by a bigger margin Monday than the first two game against USF was having success on both ends of the floor.

“Today our big theme was to play on both sides of the ball. I think offensively we played better and defensively we stopped them,” Fortier said. “I think that the combination of being able to defend and find some coherent offense or some second points or whatever points we needed to was the difference.”

My thoughts on San Francisco’s performance: The Dons struggled to score the ball throughout the game. USF is a very balanced offensive team but today only had one player in double figures. However, the Dons were able to respond multiple times throughout the game. They used a strong run to start the second to take a four-point lead. They used two more runs the at both the end of second and end of the third quarter to cut Gonzaga’s lead to five but weren’t able to get any closer than that. The Dons once again struggled on the glass, as has been the case much of the season. They gave up 16 offensive rebounds and 15 second chance points. USF got a big contribution once again from Ioanna Krimili. She had 20 points but had to take 21 shots to score those points. She also only hit two threes. The Dons got a nice performance from Lucija Kostic though. She is not a big scorer but added nine points and six rebounds in this game. Should Gonzaga and BYU make the NCAA tournament, USF should be a lock for the WNIT. Head coach Molly Goodenbour feels her team has been consistent and that is why her program has been able to have success recently.

“They have been really consistent in terms of what they bring to the floor every single day, over the past two years,” Goodenbour said. “I think that’s the standard they’ve kind of set and that’s the thing the new people are adjusting to and learning. That’s what Gonzaga is good at, that’s what BYU is good at and those are the benchmarks we’d like to bring this program to.”  

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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