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WCC Semifinal Recap: Luck runs out for the underdogs against Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s

It’s Zags vs. Gaels, as it almost always is out west.

San Diego v Saint Mary’s
Jordan Ford and Saint Mary’s are heading to the championship.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The 2019 West Coast Conference Tournament has been about as ideal of a March experience as is possible.

A wacky and wild first three days saw massive upsets, in dominant fashion, as a seven and eight seed earned their way into the tournament’s semifinal round. But the point of a tournament is, in theory, to determine the best team in the field. So on Tuesday night in Orleans Arena, we’ll get the No. 1 Zags facing their arch-rival Saint Mary’s with a trophy, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

Here’s what went down in Las Vegas during Monday’s semifinal round.

No. 8 Pepperdine Waves 74, No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs 100

What happens when you take a team ranked No. 1 in the country and add Killian Tillie back into the mix?

“They just threw another guy in there who can get baskets,” Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar said. “His return allowed the rich to get richer.”

This is America, after all, where the rich do seem to be the ones getting richer. And, Gonzaga’s colors are red, white and blue.

Those are the colors of France, too, and Gonzaga’s French phenom was nothing short of perfect in his return from a plantar fascia injury that sidelined him for the Zags’ previous seven games. Against Pepperdine he scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. There didn’t appear to be any rust, as the junior forward went 3-3 from long range. He’s now 16-17 from three for his career in the WCC Tournament.

The rest of the team was just as impressive. All five starters scored in double-figures, as did freshman forward Filip Petrusev — a sweet scoring line for the player who will see his playing time dwindle the most now that Tillie is back.

Pepperdine, which came into the game three shy of the WCC Tournament record for most made three pointers, went 1-7 from long range in the first half. They ended up setting the record — the Waves made 40 over their four games — but most of their damage was done in the final four minutes, well after the game was decided.

The Waves were basically doomed to defeat before the game even tipped off. Junior forward Kameron Edwards (15.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg), the team’s leading rebounder and second leading scorer, was ruled out with a stress injury in his foot. Without him, the Waves stood no chance against Gonzaga’s size in the paint.

Gonzaga led by as many as 41 points in the contest. The Zags have now won 21 consecutive games, all by double-digits. The win moved Gonzaga to 30-2 on the season. It’s the Zags fifth 30-win season in program history, all of which have come within the past seven seasons.

Pepperdine finishes with a 16-18 record in Lorenzo Romar’s first season back in Malibu.

No. 7 San Diego Toreros 62, No. 2 Saint Mary’s Gaels 69

Finally, a close game in the WCC Tournament.

It looked early like tired legs had finally caught up to the Toreros, who were playing their fourth game in five days here in Vegas. Saint Mary’s was able to get into the paint with ease and pulled out to an early 19-9 lead.

But Isaiah Wright (22 points) and Isaiah Pineiro (16 points) started getting shots to fall and their energy on the offensive end of the court translated to stronger play on the defensive end.

The Toreros hung with Saint Mary’s as the game slowed down — the Gaels are among the slowest teams in the country — and went into the break down just five points. Coming out of halftime, the Toreros picked up the pace and rattled off seven straight points to take a three point lead around the 13-minute mark. It would be the only lead of the game for San Diego, but the game remained close from that point forward.

San Diego’s fight never let up, but when the game came down to the wire it was Saint Mary’s that knocked down clutch free throws.

Head coach Sam Scholl didn’t have an answer about what the postseason holds for the Toreros, who own a 21-14 record on the season.

For Saint Mary’s, the immediate future is known: The Gaels will head to the tournament final for the eighth time in the past 11 seasons. Their foe, the same as always. What happens tomorrow will determine how sweaty the Gaels are on Selection Sunday.