Pacific women roar into WCC semifinals
Pacific has served notice it is a women’s basketball team to be reckoned with, winning twice in the West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas to advance to Monday afternoon’s semifinals against second-seeded Portland.
The sixth-seeded Tigers avenged two earlier losses to No. 3 seed San Diego with a dominating 71-57 victory Saturday to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2018. No. 1 Gonzaga will face No. 5 Brigham Young University in the other semifinal.
The Tigers’ 2:30 p.m. semifinal will be televised on regional sports networks including NBC Sports Bay Area. BYUtv and the WCC Network also will carry the game. Fans can listen to a radio broadcast on PacificTigers.com or in the Stockton area on FoxSports 1280.
Pacific will host a free watch party for the Tiger community in The Lair, a pub-style gathering area on the second floor of the DeRosa University Center.
To understand the significance of the team’s accomplishments, you must go back to last season, when the Tigers finished 6-23. The program regrouped this year with 11 returning players, adding just a transfer and a freshman to the mix. The preseason coaches’ poll predicted the Tigers would finish ninth in the 10-team league.
Injuries limited Pacific’s success in the early WCC schedule. The Tigers were just 2-8 after 10 games. But after key players returned, Pacific started to gain consistency and won six of its final eight games.
“We are playing a better brand of team defense and playing together on the offensive end,” said eighth-year Head Coach Bradley Davis. “We had different people step up. Early it was out of necessity due to injuries. Now it’s out of playing together.”
Pacific opened the WCC Tournament with an 82-77 win over Saint Mary’s. With a three-point edge at halftime, Pacific clamped down on defense in the second half and then held off the surging Gaels.
In the semifinals, Pacific outscored San Diego in each of the four quarters, and pulled away for the victory. Pacific dominated on the boards with a whopping 40-23 edge in rebounds.
“We’re the underdogs,” said junior Liz Smith, who was named to the All-WCC First Team. “Preseason we were ranked ninth. Last year, we finished 10th in the conference. We know nobody outside of our community believes in us. We use that for fuel. We reached the semifinals so it’s working.”
The Tigers had four players average in double figures in both tournament games. Smith led the team in both games, scoring a combined 32 points. Junior Cecelia Holmberg came off the bench and tallied 27 points in the two games. Junior Rosie Schweizer and senior Sam Ashby both have scored 23 points in the tournament.
“I’m just trying to be more confident,” said Holmberg, who hit 59 percent (10-of-17) of her shots in the tournament. “We need to take the shot that’s best for the team. If one of my teammates hits me and I’m open, I’ll take a shot.”
Davis relied on his bench with 10 players seeing action in both contests. That strategy worked with Pacific’s bench outscoring its counterparts 73-29.
“Exceeding expectations is what’s driving us right now,” said Ashby, one of two seniors on the team. “When we are a confident team, we do amazing things. With this confidence, I really think we are unstoppable in this conference.
“Honestly, this is probably the best senior season I could ask for,” Ashby continued. “I’m happy to be with this group and happy we are performing where we are."
Smith agreed with her teammate. “This is March. This is what it’s all about. There is a team that’s going to go on a run, and we’re that team. We are going to keep it going.”