Paul Danzer On College Hoops: Andersen, UP continue climb with WCC quarterfinal berth

COURTESY PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Guard Kate Andersen has been one of the leaders for the Portland Pilots.The Portland Pilots women's basketball program celebrated Kate Andersen's four seasons with a nice pregame tribute Saturday before the final regular-season game at Chiles Center.

Then Andersen and her young teammates tried to give their fans something real to celebrate.

They didn't quite do enough to upend the West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga Bulldogs, but the competitiveness of the game was evidence of the trajectory of the Pilots under first-year coach Michael Meek.

The Pilots will enter the WCC tournament at Las Vegas on Saturday in the quarterfinal round. Their 11-7 conference record is their best since going 10-4 in 2009 and ended a stretch of nine losing seasons in WCC play.

Gonzaga (28-2) is ranked No. 12 by AP and was 10th in last week's coaches' poll. The Zags are the 12th overall seed in the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's latest reveal. The Pilots aren't projected as a NCAA tournament team, but they will be in Las Vegas this week trying to get there. Given the way Portland has competed this season, winning three tournament games to claim the WCC's automatic bid isn't impossible.

"Playing the No. 10 team in the nation makes our whole team realize that we can hang around with them," Andersen said, noting the Pilots had Gonzaga on the ropes in Spokane in December.

On Saturday, Portland led by one at the half before Gonzaga's defense held the Pilots to 18 second-half points and pulled away late for a 14-point win.

"Gonzaga's one of the most intense and physical teams in the conference, so when we play in the tournament we'll know what a physical team is," Andersen said. "So it'll make playing in the tournament a little bit easier."

Andersen's first three Pilots teams exited in the first round, so the Jesuit High grad will experience something new at noon Saturday in the quarterfinals against Pacific, Santa Clara or San Francisco. Win that and Portland earns another shot at Gonzaga at noon Monday in the semifinals.

These Pilots have made a big improvement from 12-42 in WCC play during Andersen's first three seasons.

"I'm proud we finished fourth in such a great league in the first year," Meek said. "From a competitive standpoint, there have been very few games we haven't been in. That to me is a great first step.

"The team has done a really good job engaging with the learning," the coach added. "Our depth is improved. I feel like it's getting better as the season's gone along. We're hoping we have some more time to continue to grow."

n The Portland men, losers of 14 in a row, face Santa Clara at 8 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the WCC tournament.

• If Payton Pritchard can lead the Oregon men to wins over California and Stanford in his final two games at Matthew Knight Arena, the Ducks will at least share the Pac-12 regular-season championship and be the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament. UCLA will share the conference title if it beats USC on Saturday, or will win it outright by beating the Trojans if the Ducks drop a game.

The Bruins opened conference play 1-3 but are 9-1 since a 96-75 loss at Oregon on Jan. 26.

n Pritchard is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award.

• The Portland State men enter their final two home games on a four-game win streak — during which they have averaged 88 points. That has lifted the Vikings (16-14, 10-8) to fourth place in the Big Sky. A win Thursday over fifth-place Northern Arizona would guarantee PSU a first-round bye in the Big Sky tournament. The Vikings' final regular-season game is 7 p.m. Saturday against eighth-place Sacramento State. Six seniors will be recognized on Saturday.

n PSU junior guard Kylie Jimenez passed the 1,000-point plateau and the Viking women halted a seven-game skid on Saturday with a 86-63 win over Weber State in their final home game.

• Concordia's men (5-23) won the final two games in program history, topping Alaska Fairbanks 78-73 and Alaska Anchorage 82-79. Xavier Smith, a senior from Kansas City, Missouri, was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference player of the week after combining for 47 points in the two games.

• The Concordia women split their last two games, beating Alaska Fairbanks and losing to No. 5-ranked Alaska Anchorage. The Cavaliers finished 6-22.

• Portland natives Ben College of Whitworth (Central Catholic High) and Stellan Roberts of Puget Sound (Cleveland High) were named to the Northwest Conference first team. Whitman beat Whitworth 86-80 in the NWC tournament final.

• Linfield senior Kory Olson (Jesuit High) was a NWC women's first-team selection. George Fox beat regular-season champion Whitman 57-55 to claim the NWC tournament title.

• The Portland Community College men will open the 16-team Northwest Athletic Conference tournament at 10 p.m. Saturday against Wenatchee Valley. The Panthers (15-10) finished third in the NWAC South Division. South Division champion Clackamas (25-3) opens the tournament at 2 p.m. Saturday against Yakima Valley. The tournament is at Everett (Washington) Community College. It was still on as of Tuesday pending updates about coronavirus concerns.

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