Here is the WCC women's basketball preview by the WCC's columnist John Crumpacker:

2018-19 #WCCHoops Women's Preview
WCC WEEK ONE NOTES

By John Crumpacker
WCC Columnist

There is a clear case of symmetry going on in the West Coast Conference as the 2018-19 basketball season looms like a doorbell waiting to be pressed by a costumed child in search of candy on Halloween.

As with the WCC men, the top three women’s teams in the preseason poll of head coaches is the same: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU. That’s all well and good for the Zags, Gaels and Cougars. Not so good for the remaining seven teams striving to move up in the ranks.

There’s Loyola Marymount, picked to finish fourth among WCC women based on its returning talent and last season’s 19-11 overall record, 11-7 in conference.

“We have a lot of experience,’’ Lions senior guard Gabby Green said. “We have a lot of returners coming back that had a key role. We’re pretty confident this year. It’s my last year. I definitely want to win and leave a legacy here at LMU, raise up the program and the conference. We’re all confident and getting better, not just our group but the whole WCC.

“We have five seniors, so we all want to win. We want to have no regrets, have a great time. Five key people are going to be leaving. We need to cherish each day.’’

LMU coach Charity Elliott will look to Green, a 2017-18 transfer from Cal, for a little bit of everything. The WCC Newcomer of the Year led the conference in steals per game (3.2) and was third in assists (4.2) and blocks (1.3) while scoring 13.0 and securing (Grabby Gabby?) 6.6 rebounds. Green is joined in the backcourt by senior point guard Andee Velasco, whose specialty is dishing out assists in bunches.

“What I’m most excited about is the returners we have, the leadership we have, the experience we gained,’’ Elliott said. “They’re a fun group to coach because of the goals and standard they set. We have five seniors. I’ve always heard that you’re going to go as far as your seniors take you. You know this is it.’’

Anticipating the start of the season in November, Elliott said, “It’s going to be a fight every night. That’s what makes it fun. The Big Three have such tremendous history of being successful. We look forward to the challenge. We feel we can beat anyone on a given night and lose to anyone on a given night.’’

Leading off the Big Three is Gonzaga, which posted a 27-6 record, lost just once in conference play and defeated San Diego for the WCC Tournament championship. Coach Lisa Fortier’s best player is senior guard Chandler Smith, who averaged 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. She and her teammates will rely on senior point guard Laura Stockton to distribute the ball, as her father John did at Gonzaga and for so many years in the NBA.

“Every year it’s a brand-new team,’’ Fortier said. “We’re still figuring it out, getting this group to jell. We still have a lot of work to do. We work together very well. We look for each other in practice. We’re sharing the ball willingly.’’

Along with Smith and Stockton, forward Zykera Rice, she of the blue hair and ability to trash talk, sort of, in Arabic, gives the Zags a third senior to lean on. Rice was second team All-WCC last season.

“We’re all at different positions,’’ Smith said. “We all complement each other. We’ve been together the last four years, which is awesome. I think it will show this season and we’ll finish strong. The feeling is nice to have but honestly, we take it game-by-game. Conference is hard. Every game is tough.’’

You do not have to tell that to Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas, whose Gaels finished second in the conference at 13-5 (20-11) overall but were upset by 15-17 Pacific in the WCC Tournament quarterfinals. Thomas’ best player is sturdy senior forward Megan McKay, whose firm grip is indicative of her rebounding ability (7.3 per game) to go along with 15.3 points per game.

McKay was picked to the WCC’s preseason all-conference team, along with fellow forward Sydney Raggio.

Of McKay, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Australia, Thomas said, “She’s extremely strong and physical, a post player who can run the floor and likes to run the floor. She’s just been solid for us. We have a really well-balanced team.’’

On being picked to finish second in the conference, Thomas said, “I think that’s close to where we finished last year and what we deserve. It’s probably pretty accurate.’’

BYU was picked third based on last season’s 16-14 overall record and 11-7 mark in conference, behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. Coach Jeff Judkins has two returning starters in junior guard Brenna Chase and 6-foot-7 sophomore Sara Hamson, the WCC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Hamson used her towering height to block 4.3 shots per game last season, a mark that led the NCAA. Opponents enter the paint at their peril when Hamson is in the pivot.

“As a team, we hope to win the WCC championship and get back to the NCAA Tournament,’’ Chase said. “Personally, I really want to win the championship. It would be such a cool experience.’’

While acknowledging that Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s were rightfully picked to finish 1-2, Judkins said, “I think LMU is a very scary, dangerous team, having Green as a Pac-12 transfer. Santa Clara has a lot of unknowns with all their transfers. Since I’ve been here we’re more equal. There are good coaches in our league.’’

One of those teams is USF, which went 16-15 (10-8 in conference) in coach Molly Goodenbour’s third season on the Hilltop. The Dons are going international this season, with seven players from five different countries – Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Poland and Sweden. Must make for an interesting locker room, yes?

“Me and the other senior are trying to learn their languages,’’ guard Shannon Powell said. “It’s a fun environment. We’re only doing numbers. Veronica (Preciado) knows a few words in in Finnish and Croatian. It’s definitely a fun and nice environment. We’re trying to get them feeling at home and not homesick.’’

At Pacific, picked to finish seventh, coach Bradley Davis’ Tigers, 15-17 overall, advanced to the WCC semifinals, where they lost to San Diego by 10 points. Davis has three of his top five scorers from last season returning in guards Ameela Li and Chelsea Lidy and forward Brooklyn McDavid.

Not lacking in confidence, Li said, “Long-term, we’re eyeing the (WCC) championship. We play really well together. We have a lot of new players and some returners. It’s going to be exciting to see how we all play together.’’

San Diego finished an underwhelming 8-10 in conference play but advanced to the WCC championship game by knocking off BYU and Pacific before falling to Gonzaga 79-71 in the title game. Cindy Fisher has coached the Toreros to five WNIT appearances in the last seven years. Her best player this season is sophomore guard Myah Pace.

As BYU’s Judkins mentioned, much is unknown about Santa Clara. The Broncos welcome back Emily Wolph from a torn ACL that limited her to just one game in 2017-18 and will be bolstered by three transfers (Lauren Yearwood/Oregon, Joseta Fatusi/Utah and Erica Meyer/Providence) along with junior college transfer Tia Hay.

Clearly in rebuilding mode are the teams picked to finish ninth and 10th in the conference, Pepperdine (10-20) and Portland (7-23).

Pepperdine’s best player, like her coach, has a hyphenated surname. Forward Yasmine Robinson-Bacote, a senior, averaged 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, a source of comfort for coach DeLisha Milton-Jones.

“We had a rough season last year,’’ Robinson-Bacote said. “We competed well at home. We need to start learning how to win on the road. I just want to go out and compete at a high level and bring my team with me.’’

Portland returns its top three scorers in Darian Slaga (12.2), Julie Spencer (11.0) and Kate Anderson (8.7).

“It’s the best attitude I’ve had since I’ve been at Portland,’’ Spencer said. “We’re expecting a culture shift as well, what our vision is as a team. Everyone is on the same page this year. That’s crucial to having success. It was a concentrated effort. Change needed to happen.’’

As for the top three teams picked atop the conference, there’s no change at all.

WEEKLY SCHEDULE
Tuesday, November 6
Pepperdine at Hawaii 9 p.m.
Sonoma State at Santa Clara TheW.tv 7 p.m.
(RV/23) UCLA at Loyola Marymount TheW.tv 7 p.m.

Wednesday, November 7
San Diego at Southern Utah 5:30 p.m.
Montana at (-/RV) Gonzaga SWX 6 p.m.
Thursday, November 8
William Jessup at Pacific TheW.tv 7 p.m.

Friday, November 9
Portland at Utah Valley 2 p.m.
UC Riverside at BYU BYUtv 4 p.m.
Wyoming at Saint Mary’s TheW.tv 6:30 p.m.
San Jose State at San Francisco TheW.tv 7 p.m.

Saturday, November 10
Nevada at Santa Clara TheW.tv 4 p.m.

Sunday, November 11
Saint Mary’s at Washington State 1 p.m.
(-/RV) Gonzaga at Eastern Washington SWX 2 p.m.
Hawaii at San Diego TheW.tv 2 p.m.
Pacific at UC Davis 2 p.m.

Monday, November 12
Portland at Weber State 4 p.m.
All times Pacific
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