Pacific Basketball Rolls into Postseason
With the arrival of March comes the arrival of a yearly college tradition: postseason college basketball. Schools from across the country battle to earn a place in the NCAA March Madness Tournament, competing in their own respected conferences to be able to play on a national stage.
The Pacific Tigers, members of the West Coast Conference since 2013, made their sixth annual trip to the WCC Tournament on March 7th. The tournament, held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, saw the Tigers vying to qualify for their first ever appearance in the women’s NCAA tournament, and their first appearance in the men’s NCAA tournament since 2013.
The men’s basketball team finished the regular season with a record of 14-17, finishing 9th in the conference and tying for their highest amount of wins since the 2013-14 season. As the 9th seed in the tournament, they faced the 8th seeded Pepperdine Waves in the first round of the WCC Tournament on March 7th. The Tigers performed well in the first half, eventually gaining a 12 point lead nearly halfway through the second half of the game. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that lead would be erased by the Waves as the Tigers struggled to close out the game, ultimately ending their season with a 61-53 loss to the Pepperdine Waves.
The women’s basketball team headed to Las Vegas with an 18-12 record, their best since the 2014-15 season, placing themselves 5th in the conference. The Tigers, as the 5th seed, earned themselves a first round bye, beginning their tournament in the second round against the 7th seeded Santa Clara Broncos on March 8th. The Tigers would get off to a hot start in the first quarter, though they would falter in the beginning of the second quarter before taking a 35-33 lead into halftime. They would again struggle in the third quarter, though the Tigers would eventually turn their performance around as they ended the day with a 76-60 victory over the Broncos to earn a place in the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals against the 3rd seeded Pepperdine Waves, the Tigers would put up a valiant effort, coming back from a 15 point deficit, but would ultimately end their tournament with a 77-74 loss to the Waves.
Eberhardt School of Business professor Dr. Lewis Gale was in attendance at the tournament and admired the Tigers’ performance, saying that, “We attended nearly every one of the home games and traveled to the WCC tournament two-years in a row.”
“I was hoping for several wins by both teams so, while it was disappointing, I was very proud of how hard our teams played,” Gale continued.
The women’s team, for the first time since the 2014-15 season, was invited to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, a postseason tournament comprised of teams not invited to the NCAA tournament. “Getting invited to the postseason is a big deal to us,” explains starting guard Jessica Blakeslee ‘20, “Back when I was getting recruited to come here, this is something we talked about. It is a goal every year.”
The Tigers opened WNIT play against the Fresno State Bulldogs in a tightly contested game that saw multiple lead changes and an eventual 77-72 win for Pacific. “Consecutive postseason invitations work to draw more student-athletes to Pacific and puts a positive spotlight on our University,” explains Gale, “To also win their first-round game on the court of a Mountain West team was tremendous.” The Tigers would then go on to face the Arizona Wildcats in the second round, though fortune would not fall the way of the Tigers as they would end their tournament run and their season with a 48-64 loss to the Wildcats.
Though Pacific basketball’s seasons may not have ended in the most ideal of fashions, there is an overall sense of optimism for the future of the Tigers. Pacific Pep Band member Miranda Morse ‘20 explains that sense of optimism felt after several seasons following the Tigers, saying that, “I am excited for the future of our teams because they’ve been getting better every year since I’ve been a student here.”
That sense of optimism and drive exists within the teams themselves as well, with the women’s team retaining 4 of their 5 and the men’s team retaining 3 of their 5 starters. “I think this year will set the standard for years to come,” says Blakeslee, “People on the team this year got a taste of what postseason is like and want to come back.”
Hopefully, the sense of excitement bleeds into the community as well, as Gale explains that, “I am excited for the future of Pacific basketball and I am hopeful that more people – students, faculty, staff, and members of the San Joaquin County community – devote time to support our student-athletes in the coming seasons.”