Everything the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been recently they weren’t Sunday afternoon.
A crunch-time dry spell allowed Southern California to go on a 13-0 run that sent Gonzaga, ranked 24th in the coaches’ poll, to a 58-51 loss at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“Gotta learn from it,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “We don’t lose here very often. It’s disappointing. We got a good crowd and we let them down. It was down the stretch, stops and buckets, we didn’t do it. Simple.”
A steal and layup by Jazmine Redmon put the Bulldogs up 49-45 with 5:18 to play, forcing USC coach Michael Cooper to call a timeout while the roar from the crowd of 5,548, the seventh-largest ever at McCarthey, settled into a buzz.
After that it was all Trojans and senior guard Ashley Corral, who started the decisive surge with a basket, hit a 3 in the middle and ended it with a floater in the lane. During that stretch, which extended until Kayla Standish made a pair of free throws with nine seconds left, the Zags (5-2) missed five shots and had three turnovers.
“It was a must win,” said Corral, a 5-9 senior from Vancouver, Wash., who led all scorers with 19 points. “We were 3-3 prior to this game and we needed a road win. They’re a very good team and we just needed to beat them.
“This is what college basketball is all about. I love coming up here. This is one of my favorite places to play.”
In addition to an inability to execute with only five assists, Gonzaga’s big dogs had no bite. Standish was 4 of 16 from the floor and Katelan Redmon 2 of 10, part of a 31.8 percent shooting performance.
“The reality is if Kayla and Katelan are going to combine for 6 for 26 we’re not going to beat anybody, not a good team,” Graves said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a little longer and athletic and they challenged them a little more.”
Gonzaga’s big lead was 22-16 late in the first half, courtesy of an 11-0 run, but the Trojans closed within 24-22 at the break. USC, which was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 coaches poll, had a surge to go up six early in the second half, only to see that disappear when Haiden Palmer and Taelor Karr hit back-to-back 3s. After USC scored, Kelly Bowen, who led the Bulldogs with 15 points, scored, and shortly after that Palmer, who had 13 off the bench, hit a 3 to make it 44-40.
The Zags then went scoreless for 5 minutes, but the Trojans only got five points out of it.
“They defended better than I thought they would,” Graves said. “The places we would typically have an advantage we didn’t on this team. I wouldn’t say it was a bad matchup, we just didn’t have those advantages we normally have. Then you have to execute and we didn’t execute very well. … They did a nice job of not letting us get out and go.”
Bowen had 10 rebounds and Standish 13 to go with her 11 points, helping Gonzaga to a 43-37 rebounding margin. The Trojans shot 57.7 percent in the second half after a 22 percent first half.
“(Defense) is going to be our staple all season,” Cooper said. “They’ve been putting up some big points inside. … We really wanted to double team and make it hard for those players to get shots. … Rebounding is always a key. Even though we got outrebounded, I thought we got some rebounds and I’d say the last five minutes we won the rebounding battle.”
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