March 4, 2023 

Sights and sounds from the WCC Tournament, Day 2

Dominance from BYU's Lauren Gustin and a near-comeback by Saint Mary's highlighted the day

LAS VEGAS — Day 2 of the WCC Tournament from Orleans Arena is in the books. Before we get to Friday’s action, a quick recap of Thursday’s first-round games: No. 9 seed Pepperdine came back from a third-quarter 14-point deficit to upset No. 8 seed Santa Clara 63-60. In the second game, No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s led wire to wire to eliminate No. 10 seed LMU 74-43. What happened on Friday, then? Let’s discuss.

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Game of the Day: Pacific vs. Saint Mary’s. The second quarter was an offensive showcase, and the Gaels made a furious comeback that fell just short.

Moment of the Day: A layup by Pacific’s Liz Smith at the end of the third quarter. It gave the Tigers their first double-digit lead of the game, and they held on in the fourth for the win.

Quote of the Day: “I just couldn’t be more thankful,” said Saint Mary’s senior Taycee Wedin. “I didn’t really even know about St. Mary’s when I was in high school, and obviously when they started recruiting me, [I] did some research, went on a few visits. I just knew immediately that I wanted to go there, and I couldn’t have asked for a better career. I came back for my fifth year because of the people, because of the relationships that I’ve made my past five years here, and I’m just I’m gonna miss it. Basketball aside, it’s the people and it always will be, and so I just, I’m so thankful and I really will continue to have relationships with these people because they mean a lot to me.”

BYU guard Nani Falatea shoots with her left hand as a Pepperdine defender attempts to get a hand on the ball.
BYU guard Nani Falatea (3) shoots during the first half of a WCC Tournament game against Pepperdine at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 3, 2023. (Photo credit: Kyle Terada)

Game 1: No. 5 BYU defeats No. 9 Pepperdine 74-59

Summary: Using a big third quarter, BYU was able to handle Pepperdine. The Cougars put up 24 points in that period, shooting 10-for-17 from the field and knocking down four 3-pointers to build an 18-point lead. Pepperdine cut the lead to eight in the fourth quarter but couldn’t overcome the hole it had dug. BYU’s Nani Falatea put up 23 points and Lauren Gustin secured her 26th double-double of the season with 23 points and 18 rebounds.

BYU thoughts: The Cougars start and end with junior forward Lauren Gustin, and she dominated once again. She started slowly in the first half, scoring just eight points and picking up two fouls. However, she came alive in the second half, scoring 15. She does a great job of using her strength to get position inside and finishes so well, even when fading away from the basket.

The Cougars also got a great performance from guard Nani Falatea. She was aggressive looking for her shot, knocking down four threes and scoring at all three levels. She got the Cougars started with a couple of mid-range jumpers, hit a couple of 3-pointers in the BYU third-quarter run, and made some layups to break the Pepperdine press in the fourth. She also hit a tough side-step 3-pointer as the first-quarter buzzer sounded.

The Cougars got off to a slow start offensively and only led by seven points at the half. They will need to have a better start in Saturday’s game. One area in which the Cougars struggled was turnovers, as their 12 turnovers led to 14 Waves points. They will need to take better care of the ball in order to advance in the WCC Tournament. 

“I think by the third quarter, we were a little more settled,” Falatea said. “Then we went into halftime and talked about some things that we need to work on. We just came back came out with a mentality of just, we want to win. We got to keep the lead up and kind of progress out there. I think we just kind of all stepped up and came together a little bit more.”

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Pepperdine thoughts: The Waves put up quite the fight against BYU despite going through a lot this season. They have been without some of their best players for long stretches due to injuries. Their head coach, Kristen Dowling, had to step away midway through the season and resigned just a few days before the WCC Tournament.

Despite all that, the Waves clawed from start to finish against BYU, using physicality and timely baskets to keep the Cougars from running away with it. Theresa Grace Mbanefo was great inside for the Waves. She scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds against a tough BYU defense led by Gustin, the WCC’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. Mbanefo was able to create space inside and also hit some mid-range jumpers.

Mbanefo was joined in double figures by guard Jane Nwaba. Nwaba did a great job of driving to the basket and finishing some difficult shots around the rim. Her athleticism really gave the BYU defense problems. Also, after trailing by as much as 20, the Waves never gave up. They started pressing late in the fourth, created some turnovers, and cut the Cougar lead to eight. The Waves never quit, but their season is now over and they will have to wait and see who their new head coach will be.

“To see these guys compete and win versus BYU, compete and have the lead at Gonzaga,” said interim head coach Brian Rosario, “to finish the season winning three of five and then getting a first-round [WCC Tournament win], I mean, that’s tough. The pride comes from all of that, and I think it’s just what we said in the locker room: This group infused the love for the program, and I think there’s [a] huge opportunity for this program now to rise to the upper half of the conference because of this group.”

Pacific's Liz Smith dribbles the ball with her right hand and looks downcourt.
Pacific’s Liz Smith dribbles the ball against Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 3, 2023. (Photo credit: Kyle Terada)

Game 2: No. 6 Pacific defeats No. 7 Saint Mary’s 82-77

Summary: Pacific held off a late charge from the Gaels to advance. The Tigers held Saint Mary’s to one field goal in the third quarter to take a 10-point lead into the fourth. Saint Mary’s cut the lead to three late but could never come all the way back. The Tigers had four players in double figures, led by Liz Smith’s 17.

Pacific thoughts: The Tigers are a deep team with a lot of offensive weapons. On Friday, they had four players in double figures, two of whom came off the bench. They outscored the Gaels in bench points 36-20.

Their offense flows through Smith, their point guard. She is incredibly quick off the bounce and very hard to stop going to the basket. She wasn’t particularly efficient for Pacific on Friday, but she drew nine fouls and took 10 free throws.

One of Pacific’s bench stars was junior Cecilia Holmberg. She scored 14 points and knocked down all four of her 3-point attempts. At 6’2, her ability to stretch the floor from the post position makes her extremely dangerous off the pick and pop, and she works well with 6’1 sophomore center Elizabeth Elliott.

The Tigers have struggled on defense throughout the year, having the second-worst defense in the WCC, and that showed at times on Friday. They gave up a combined 59 points in the second and fourth quarters but only 18 in the first and third. The defense will need to be more consistent for the Tigers to continue in the WCC Tournament.

“We did it the last few times we saw Saint Mary’s, the exact same thing,” said Pacific head coach Bradley Davis. “There were some great quarters for us and some really bad quarters for us. We had a six-point quarter, just like they had today [in the third] … You just got to keep fighting, and they did that in that fourth quarter as well. This is the kind of game with this team, especially a team that can shoot the way they can, they can get hot, and I think we can do the same.”

Saint Mary’s thoughts: The Gaels battled the whole way, but the third-quarter drought really did them in. The Gaels’ offense got out of sync to start the third quarter and was just in a rush. They turned the ball over 17 times, eight of which came in the third quarter.

The Tigers took away easy looks for Gaels center Ali Bamberger, an All-WCC First Team performer, who scored 19 points on 6-for-18 shooting. The Tigers threw a lot of bodies at her and made all her looks at the rim very difficult. The Gaels also saw their elite 3-point shooter struggle. Taycee Wedin, the WCC’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers, didn’t get a lot of open looks. She shot 3-for-10 from downtown and only made six total shots.

The Gaels’ offense did look superb in both the second and fourth quarters. They hit a lot of tough shots in the second quarter and drew a lot of fouls in the fourth but when they were scoring all those points, they couldn’t get stops.

Like Pepperdine, the Gaels will have a new head coach next year.

“This is kind of a crazy season, and I always told them, ‘I’m doing it for these guys,'” said interim head coach Alyson Fastnacht on stepping into the head coach role. “Especially for our fifth years and our seniors, that made it easy for me to show up every day and try and give them my best. I learned a lot sliding over to the next chair. There’s a lot of the decisions and different things that you have to make as a head coach, and I don’t think you can ever really get fully prepared for that.”

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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