Las Vegas • The San Francisco Dons already had everybody’s attention at the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament anyway — six straight wins will do that for a team — but coach Rex Walters ensured that would happen in his postgame news conference after a 69-60 quarterfinal win over San Diego.
“I told our guys, ‘I think we’re the best team here, quite honestly. And we have a chance to prove it,” Walters said. “… I think we have got as good a chance as anyone, and I think we’re better [than anyone].”
That will come as news to Monday’s other semifinalists, as the four highest seeds advanced after Saturday’s games. Regular-season champion Gonzaga swept the Dons by a combined 38 points, second-seeded BYU swept the Dons by outplaying them in the final minutes of both games, and No. 4 Saint Mary’s split with Walters’ squad, each team winning by double digits on its home floor.
The Cougars (22-10) go for a third win over the Dons (21-10) in Monday’s late semifinal (9:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN2), while Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s tangle in the first semifinal (7 p.m.) at Orleans Arena.
“This group is ready for that moment [to make amends for a 1-5 record against GU, BYU and SMC], has wanted that moment,” Walters said.
The Cougars and Zags (26-6) are both five-point favorites, but BYU coach Dave Rose said there’s some method behind Walters’ madness.
“Well, he’s got the hottest team,” Rose said, when told about Walters’ remarks. “If you [look] at what they have done down the stretch, they are playing really well. I respect a guy who has a lot of confidence in the team he’s coaching.”
In truth, San Francisco pushed BYU at the Marriott Center better than any WCC team this year, falling just 68-63 after failing to score in the game’s final 1:49. Tim Derksen led the Dons with 17 points, while Kyle Collinsworth and Tyler Haws had 19 apiece for BYU.
“We are excited [to play USF],” Haws said after scoring 22 points in BYU’s 85-74 quarterfinal win over LMU. “I think we match up well. Obviously, they are a very talented team. Every game was a battle with them this year.”
Guard Skyler Halford was the hero in BYU’s 83-76 win at San Francisco, making 11 of 12 free throws and scoring 18 points, but he played just four minutes Saturday, having lost his starting spot to defensive ace Anson Winder.
Oddly, BYU outrebounded USF 47-29 in Provo after the Dons won the battle of the boards at home, 40-29.
“We have to keep them off the glass,” Walters said Saturday. “That’s the biggest thing. They get little rebounds and they get big rebounds.”
Rose said San Francisco is tough to beat because it spreads the floor well, has four excellent shooters in Avry Holmes, Chris Adams, Cole Dickerson and Derksen, and three outstanding inside players in Dickerson, Mark Tollefsen and Kruize Pinkins.
“They’ve got themselves a really balanced team,” Rose said. “I think that’s why Rex is so confident.”
Most NCAA Tournament prognosticators say USF has to win the conference tournament to make the big dance; BYU is still on the bubble, but many believe a win Monday over a team with a top-100 RPI (USF is currently at 66) would do the trick for an at-large berth.
BYU vs. San Francisco
P At Orleans Arena
Tipoff • 9:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Records • BYU 22-10; USF 21-10
Series history • BYU leads, 10-6
Last meeting • BYU 68, San Francisco 63 (Feb. 8, 2014)
About the Dons • They have won six straight games, including a 69-60 win over San Diego in a quarterfinal game on Saturday. … Avry Holmes scored 19 points and Cole Dickerson had 14 points and eight rebounds against the Toreros. … They were swept by BYU in the regular season, but both games were close and went to the wire.
About the Cougars • They have won five straight games and nine of their last 10. … Kyle Collinsworth had a career game in their 85-74 win over Loyola Marymount on Saturday, scoring 23 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. … They are 2-2 in WCC tournament games since joining the league three years ago.
West Coast Conference
At Orleans Arena
Thursday, March 6
Loyola Marymount 67, Portland 64
Santa Clara 81, Pacific 64
Saturday, March 8
San Francisco 69, San Diego 60
BYU 85, Loyola Marymount 74
Gonzaga 77, Santa Clara 75
Saint Mary’s 80, Pepperdine 69
Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m. MDT
San Francisco vs. BYU, 9:30 p.m. MDT
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m. MDT