Impressive individual performances led Pepperdine and USF to victories on the first day of the 2014 WCC Tournament.
After the San Francisco Dons’ win over the Loyola Marymount Lions last Saturday, coach Jennifer Azzi noted that she wanted her team to show the will that helped them get that one point win more often.
Azzi got that in stunningly similar fashion in today’s 63-62 win over LMU in the first round of the 2014 WCC Tournament.
Junior wing Taj Winston had a game-saving steal, two game-saving offensive rebounds, and a game-winning shot in the final 15 seconds of the game to secure a second consecutive dramatic, come-from-behind, gutsy win that came down to simply wanting the ball more when it counted.
Words don’t really do her last second heroics justice – to really appreciate her effort you have to see it.
Winston finished tied for a game-high 16 points along with a team-highs of nine rebounds, five assists, and three blocks.
But Winston’s post-game comments in the USFDons.com recap demonstrated that her number one contribution was something you can’t quantify – she wanted that win, badly.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment, and we’ve been wanting to come out and pull upsets that nobody expects us to win,” Winston said. “We’re finally being heard, we’re finally playing together and people can see us. People know that when we come on the court, we’re going to play hard regardless of who they are. We’re going to play our game. We’ve been waiting for this, and we’re ready for anything.”
Putting those comments in the broader context of the season, Winston’s words echo something that sophomore Taylor Proctor mentioned the team has been working on lately after last Thursday’s 75-61 win at home: focus.
“This last week we’ve been focusing on the moment and being in the moment and being present,” Proctor said after the Pepperdine win. “I think that our last couple games we weren’t focused on the moment and on ourselves – not selfish, but just kind of not engaged. So I think that we’ve been focusing on being in the moment and having defensive energy and having complete control of the game.”
Apparently Winston has taken what the coaches have been preaching to heart and it’s paying dividends.
In a season of milestones, this third win in a row marks another: it’s the first time that the team has put together three consecutive wins against Division I opponents at any point in a season since December 2007. You’d have to go back almost a decade to February 2005 to find the last time they won three straight against conference opponents.
Today’s win was yet another baby step in the program’s rebuilding process, but when you start to string these together it’s clear that they’re making progress in changing the culture.
#10 Pepperdine defeats #7 Santa Clara, 80-74
In the first “upset” of the WCC tournament, Pepperdine used similar late-game heroics to put away Santa Clara and get just their second win against a conference opponent this season.
I put “upset” in quotes because the one previous win that Pepperdine did get this season was in fact against Santa Clara, albeit in a double overtime affair at home. Waves junior guard Ea Shoushtari put on a show today, scoring a game- and career-high 30 points on to go with 7 rebounds – the highlight of the day was her lone made three pointer, an around the back dribble to lose her defender followed by a step-back three. Santa Clara junior Nici Gilday did her best to match Shoushtari with her team-high 27 points, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Up next: Friday’s quarterfinals
With the bottom four of the conference having battled for the right to compete with the best for a conference championship, the WCC tournament continues tomorrow starting at noon PST, as follows:
#3 Pacific vs. #6 Portland
#2 BYU vs. #10 Pepperdine
#1 Gonzaga vs. #8 San Francisco
#4 Saint Mary’s vs. #5 San Diego
The game with the biggest upset potential is probably the first with Pacific and Portland having split their season series. But if there’s anything to be learned from Pepperdine’s win, it’s that it can be difficult to beat a team three times in a season when they’re fighting for the right to play just one more game before their season ends.