Senior guard Claudine Auld was suspended last week for breaking unspecified team rules, but the Lions played solidly in all phases en route to a 61-47 victory over Portland at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
Freshman guard Rachael Ziemann had a game-high 15 points off the bench and sophomore center Jennifer Henry scored 14 to help sixth-seeded Loyola (14-14) advance to the second round at noon today against third-seeded Santa Clara (18-9).
"A lot of things really came together for us," Loyola Coach Julie Wilhoit said. "Our defense and rebounding have been strong all season, but I really saw the type of offensive execution that we've been working so hard for."
The game was never in doubt after the Lions took a 41-23 lead in the first half, when they held seventh-seeded Portland (11-17) to four-of-16 shooting. Loyola finished with a 48-19 rebounding edge.
In another first-round game:
San Diego 69, St. Mary's 56 -- Kerri Nakamoto's three-point basket broke a 48-48 tie with 5:53 to play and started a decisive closing run for the Toreros.
Forward Erin Malich scored 16 points to lead fifth-seeded San Diego (12-16), which will play fourth-seeded San Francisco (12-16) in the second round at 2:15 today.
Eighth-seeded St. Mary's finished 11-17.
It would appear to be difficult to count out any team in the WCC men's tournament, which starts today.
Under a new play-in format, top-seeded Gonzaga (22-7) has byes through the first two rounds and needs only two victories to win the tournament, one less than in past seasons. That seemingly will make it easier for the Bulldogs to win a fifth consecutive title and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
Moreover, the Bulldogs have the conference's most balanced team, led by point guard Blake Stepp, the WCC player of the year, and all-conference forwards Ronny Turiaf and Cory Violette.
But knowing that Gonzaga's two conference losses were to last-place finishers Loyola Marymount and Portland gives the other teams hope.
Pepperdine Coach Paul Westphal is optimistic, even though the Waves lost to Gonzaga by 20 and 15 points during the regular season. Fueling his confidence is that Pepperdine won the New Mexico and Stanford tournaments.
"We've got a chance," said Westphal, whose team could meet the Bulldogs in a semifinal on Sunday. "We look at it as a new season. We've been good in tournaments so far this season."
Fourth-seeded Pepperdine (15-12) has a first-round bye and will play in the second round Saturday at 8:15 p.m. against the winner of tonight's game between fifth-seeded St. Mary's (13-14) and eighth-seeded Santa Clara (13-14) at 8:15.
The tournament opens at 6 tonight with seventh-seeded Loyola Marymount (10-19) meeting sixth-seeded Portland (11-16). Loyola has lost four in a row, but Coach Steve Aggers says his team shouldn't be counted out.
"I'm not sure that we're down," Aggers said. "Our team's confidence level, after losing two home games [to St. Mary's and San Francisco], is not where I'd like it to be. But our guys have been resilient all year."
The Loyola-Portland winner will play third-seeded San Francisco (14-13) in the second round Saturday at 6 p.m. The Dons have won seven of their last nine games.