SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If Coach Julie Wilhoit couldn't recognize her Loyola Marymount players at the start of Saturday's semifinal in the West Coast Conference women's tournament, she had no trouble by the end.
The top-seeded Lions overcame opening-game jitters and a dreadful-shooting first half to defeat Portland, 59-54, in overtime in the Leavey Center.
Characteristically, the WCC regular-season champions came through with a big finish, rallying from a five-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation to extend their winning streak to 14 games and advance to the final at 1 p.m. today against second-seeded Gonzaga.
"That's something that we've done extremely well all season," Wilhoit said. "The team holding on to their composure, having confidence, hitting big shots and defending well."
Senior center Adrianne Slaughter led Loyola Marymount with 18 points, including a put-back basket with 21 seconds left in regulation to tie the score, 49-49. She scored the first four points of overtime on two free throws and a layup, giving the Lions a 53-49 lead they never relinquished.
The Lions had a rare five-point possession. Reserve guard Rachael Ziemann made a three-point shot while Portland's Ashlee Orndorff was called for a foul away from the ball. Loyola Marymount got the ball back and Jacquelyn Woods made a shot in the lane to tie the score, 47-47, with 1:52 left.
Loyola Marymount held a 51-39 advantage in rebounds and limited Portland to 27.1% shooting from the field.
"Our defense was awesome," Wilhoit said. "So I recognized that part."
But Wilhoit said it was an unrecognizable team that battled nerves in the first half. The Lions, who had byes in the tournament's first two rounds, made eight of 31 shots but led at halftime, 19-15, because Portland made only five of 27 shots.
"In 15 years of coaching, this is the first team that I have not felt that nervousness from," Wilhoit said, "[but] today was one of those games."
Gonzaga 66, Pepperdine 64 -- The Waves (17-12) rallied from a 15-point deficit in the second half to force overtime, but Gonzaga (18-10) limited the two-time defending tournament champions to two points in the extra period to hold on in the other semifinal.
With Gonzaga leading, 65-64, Pepperdine guard Shandrika Lee lost the ball out of bounds on a drive to the basket with six seconds to play. After Katy Ridenour made one of two free throws with 4.4 seconds left, Lee had a chance to win it for the Waves, but her three-point try banked off the rim at the buzzer.