The “Bracket” section of this story has been updated.
Either of the most likely winners of the West Coast Conference Tournament — Gonzaga and BYU — won’t be in action until Monday. But no matter, because despite their advantage, the top two seeds haven’t actually met in the WCC championship game since 2014. Last season, sixth-seeded San Diego played all the way from the second round to make the championship game, where they fell to the Zags.
Top-seeded Gonzaga doesn’t have much to lose heading into tournament play. Sure, a semifinals loss would be unprecedented, but their No. 14 national ranking should carry them into the NCAA Tournament regardless. The Bulldogs have much more to gain, from the pride of grabbing the automatic bid to the slim possibility of a top-four NCAA seed.
The team that will stand in their way, the BYU Cougars, are more than happy to extend their two-game series sweep over the Zags to three games. But BYU’s play has been rather inconsistent. After entering the top 25 a week after their first win over Gonzaga, the Cougars immediately exited the poll in the midst of a three-game losing streak to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s (the five-, three- and four-seeds, respectively).
Speaking of the third-through-fifth-seeded teams, any of them could easily put together a string of wins and land in the championship game. Although Gonzaga beat all three of them twice this season, often handily, the tournament atmosphere could inspire some much closer games.
For nine of the ten teams, the goal of this tournament is to make the WCC a two-bid conference — that is, to prevent Gonzaga from winning its third straight title. If anything, recent history is certainly on the side of a surprise team (or teams) getting that opportunity in the championship game.
When: Thursday, March 7 — Tuesday, March 12
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV
How to view: BYUtv, TheW.tv, ESPNU
In the day’s first game, San Francisco ended an eight-game losing streak with a 76-69 win over Portland. The Dons went 14-of-19 from the line, including 9-of-12 in the final three minutes, to pull away in what was a close game from start to finish. The second game saw Santa Clara use an 18-8 fourth quarter to erase a six-point deficit and beat San Diego, 63-59. The Broncos used a 12-0 run to pull ahead late and secure the victory.
No. 8 Portland Pilots vs. No. 9 San Francisco Dons
Thursday, March 7, 3 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
No. 7 Santa Clara Broncos vs. No. 10 San Diego Toreros
Thursday, March 7, 5 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
Both teams that entered the tournament Friday cruised into the quarterfinals with solid performances. Loyola Marymount’s largest lead of the game was the margin of the 66-45 final score; San Francisco cut the lead to single digits in the third but eventually fell short. In the later game, Pacific came back from a two-point halftime deficit to beat Santa Clara, 76-60. The Tigers outscored the Broncos in the second half by 18 points.
No. 5 Loyola Marymount Lions vs. No. 9 San Francisco Dons
Friday, March 8, 3 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
No. 6 Pacific Tigers vs. No. 7 Santa Clara Broncos
Friday, March 8, 5 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
In perhaps its most impressive game of the season, Saint Mary’s used stifling defense and a season-high 53 rebounds to shut down Loyola Marymount in the day’s first quarterfinal, 70-38. The Gaels will face Gonzaga in the semifinals, to whom they suffered two double-digit defeats this season.
Pepperdine had a little more trouble with Pacific in the second quarterfinal, withstanding a late Tigers surge to escape with the 87-84 win. The Waves advance to their first semifinal since 2010, and also hit 20 wins for the first time since that same year. BYU awaits in the next round.
No. 4 Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. No. 5 Loyola Marymount Lions
Saturday, March 9, 4 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
No. 3 Pepperdine Waves vs. No. 6 Pacific Tigers
Saturday, March 9, 6 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
After losing two players to injury, Gonzaga needed Zykera Rice’s heroic last-second shot in double overtime to finally put away Saint Mary’s in the first semifinal, 78-77. In the second semifinal, Pepperdine had several leads over BYU throughout the game, but the Cougars ended up with the 68-63 win.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 4 Saint Mary’s Gaels
Monday, March 11, 3 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
No. 2 BYU Cougars vs. No. 3 Pepperdine Waves
Monday, March 11, 5 p.m. ET, BYUtv/TheW.tv
A 23-6 second quarter for BYU helped sink an injury-depleted Gonzaga squad in the title game, 82-68. The Cougars shot 47 percent, including 13-of-25 from three, in a game that wasn’t particularly close after the first quarter. Both teams should be on their way to the NCAA Tournament.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 2 BYU Cougars
Tuesday, March 12, 4 p.m. ET, ESPNU