By Sam McPherson
In the end, everything went wrong for all three Bay Area men’s basketball teams participating in the West Coast Conference tournament on Saturday in Las Vegas: St. Mary’s College was upset by the University of Portland, while both Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco lost to highly ranked teams after giving them all they could handle.
Where to begin?
Perhaps with the Gaels, as they had an outside chance at a fifth NCAA Tournament bid in eight years if they could make a run in the WCC event. But it wasn’t to be: St. Mary’s shot just 30 percent from the floor, making only 13 field goals during the entire game. A 2-for-16 effort from three-point range doomed the Gaels, and the Pilots took advantage by making 50 percent of their shots from the floor.
Portland also benefited from a defensive effort that saw it stuff five shots from St. Mary’s players in the 69-52 win. The Gaels finish the season at 21-9 and now likely will play in the National Invitation Tournament in a few weeks. Meanwhile, San Francisco and Santa Clara won’t be playing in the NIT as each team saw its narrow postseason hopes evaporate in tough losses to teams headed to the NCAAs.
The Dons (14-18) actually led top-seeded Gonzaga at halftime by two points, but the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half for an 81-72 victory. USF got 21 points each from Mark Tollefsen and Tim Derkens, not to mention 17 points from Devin Watson. But no other Dons player scored more than five points, and that doomed USF against Gonzaga’s balanced and deep roster.
The Bulldogs shot 52.7 percent from the floor on their way to their 30th victory of the season. Gonzaga is ranked No. 7 nationally and once again vying on the national stage for NCAA elitism. The Dons’ put a scare into the WCC stalwarts, but they just couldn’t sustain the effort for 40 minutes.
Santa Clara’s ending was a little more dramatic and painful: Playing Brigham Young, the second seed in the league tourney, the Broncos (14-18) tied the score at 76 with just 28 seconds left on a Jared Brownridge layup. But Cougars guard Tyler Haws made a jump shot with six seconds left to send BYU to the victory.
Haws finished with 30 points, while Brownridge had 29 in the losing effort. Brandon Clark added 23 points for Santa Clara, and Denzel Johnson tossed in 12 points. The Broncos were 10-for-22 from three-point range, which kept them in the game. But BYU ended up on the free-throw line a whopping 38 times—that was 23 more attempts than Santa Clara earned, and it made a huge difference in the game..
The Cougars bench also outscored their Broncos counterparts, 20-6, showing again that depth matters in these close games. Beyond Brownridge, Clark and Johnson, Santa Clara received just 12 points from its other seven players combined.
So while St. Mary’s awaits its NIT bid, the Dons and the Broncos head back to the drawing board for the offseason. But what an exciting day it was in the WCC tourney for these Bay Area three teams—even if each outcome ended up disappointing local fans and alumni.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.