Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford has seen enough from his young team to be excited for the future.
“But my challenge to the guys is why wait for the future when you can do something now?” Hayford said.
That is the mindset for both the Seattle U men’s and women’s teams as they play this week in the Western Athletic Conference tournaments in Las Vegas.
It’s a week in which three consecutive victories not only means the WAC tournament title, but the conference’s berth into the NCAA tournament.
The Seattle U women know what that is like, having accomplished the feat in 2018 and earning the school’s first bid into the Division I NCAA women’s tournament.
The Seattle U men have made 11 NCAA tournament appearances, but the last one came in 1969. The school dropped out of Division I in 1980 for 30 years before returning.
The Seattle U men are 12-11 overall, and 4-5 in the WAC, earning the No. 5 seed. The Redhawks open the WAC tournament against No. 4-seed California Baptist (13-9, 6-6 WAC) on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The teams split a pair of games in Riverside, Calif., last week.
Seattle U, already without a lot of depth, recently lost starting senior guard Aaron Nettles to a fractured thumb and guard Vas Pandza to a foot injury.
“But I am an optimist, and we can beat them all,” Hayford said. “Every one of these games is going to be a tossup.”
Hayford’s team has proved it can be competitive against the WAC’s top teams. It split a pair of games against top-seed Grand Canyon, lost by a point in overtime to No. 2 Utah Valley in the only matchup and split two games against No. 3-seed New Mexico State.
“I am overwhelmingly pleased,” Hayford said of the season. “To put a whole new team together and go .500 at the worst with everything that’s gone on … You’ve got to remember that this season really rewarded the teams that had grown up together before this year because there wasn’t an offseason. We had two guys returning who had played (significant) D-I minutes, Riley (Grigsby) and Aaron.
“I think it’s been a really successful season. We have the leading scorer in the conference on our team (Darrion Trammell at 20.6 points per game) and he’s only a sophomore. … Aaron is the only senior who started a lot of games. I think a lot of people would have considered this a rebuilding year, but it’s been a great development year.”
It has been an up-and-down season for the Seattle U women (11-13, 6-8 WAC), the No. 5 seed in the tournament. The Redhawks open the WAC tournament in Las Vegas against No. 4-seed New Mexico State (8-11, 6-6) on Wednesday at 1 p.m. The teams split a pair of games in El Paso, Texas, last month.
“It’s not a question of our defense — we are really locked in defensively — and we’ve got to play with that same energy and passion against New Mexico State,” said Seattle U women’s coach Suzy Barcomb. “We’ve just got to find our offensive groove. If our offense can play as passionately as our defense is right now, we can make a nice little run.”
Last week, the Seattle U women gave undefeated Cal Baptist (23-0) quite a scare in a 66-64 defeat. The week before, the Redhawks lost 90-43 to Grand Canyon.
Cal Baptist is not yet eligible for the NCAA women’s tournament, so the conference’s berth into the NCAAs seems wide open.
Why not Seattle U?
“I think people forget how young we are,” said Barcomb, who doesn’t have a senior on the team. “They’re an emotional group and that can work to your advantage and it can work to your disadvantage. If we can channel our emotions in the right direction, we’re firing on all cylinders.”
NOTE: The men’s version of the All-WAC team was released Tuesday and two Redhawks were honored. Trammell was named to the All-WAC first team and the All-Newcomer team. Grigsby made the All-WAC second team. Trammell, besides leading the WAC in scoring at 20.6 points a game, topped the conference with 2.0 steals a game. Grigsby averaged 18.3 points a game, second in the league behind only Trammell.