LAS VEGAS – The eight teams left in the WCC men’s basketball tournament have a lot on the line but only Gonzaga has the luxury of a safety net.
The top-seeded and seventh-ranked Zags (29-2) know they’re going to the NCAA tournament. However, their performance in the WCC tournament, which begins with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 8 San Francisco (14-17) tonight at 6 at Orleans Arena, will help determine whether they are packing momentum or uncertainty.
The Zags have had a week to prepare after stumbling against BYU in the regular-season finale. The Cougars clipped Gonzaga’s 22-game winning streak and 36-game conference winning streak. BYU probably needs a strong tournament showing to firm up its NCAA at-large case.
Asked what he expects to see from tournament opponents, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “Basically what we faced the other night with BYU. It’s desperation. You’re facing teams that their season is going to end and being able to amp up your energy, your effort and aggressiveness to match that desperation these other guys are playing with.”
Gonzaga crushed San Francisco by 31 points in Spokane and won the road rematch by 11. The Zags had tougher tests in the second half of the conference season and they haven’t been as sharp as they were from November through January.
The Dons eliminated Pacific 62-58 on Thursday. Four Dons reached double figures, led by Kruize Pinkins and Tim Derksen with 14 points apiece.
“We have to bring it more than any other team,” said senior guard Kevin Pangos, the WCC player of the year. “Every single game, whether it’s three, six, nine, however many games it may be, it has to be same effort.”
Gonzaga is penciled in as a two-seed in most bracket projections. A WCC title probably reinforces that seeding and the possibility of moving up with some help from Power 5 conference tournaments. A tournament loss probably drops GU down one or two seed lines.
“That’s something we shouldn’t bother thinking about,” Pangos said. “We just have to be the best we can be at the right time.”
Earlier this week, senior guard Gary Bell Jr. didn’t know if it would be USF or Pacific in the first round, but he had a sense for what they might be thinking.
“They’re going to play their hearts out,” Bell said. “Watching the BYU game, they’re probably going to say, ‘Let’s play tougher than them.’ We have to match that intensity.”
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