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Cronin exceeds expectations

Tue., Feb. 1, 2011, 2:46 p.m.

Tara Cronin never really saw herself as a Division I basketball player, even when she was a senior at Gonzaga Prep and earning first-team All-Greater Spokane League honors among the talented Class of 2007.

“I would describe it as a bit surprising,” the Portland senior said. “I didn’t ever imagine myself playing college basketball when I was in high school. When the opportunity presented itself, I worked hard so I could help the team but didn’t think I’d be in the position I’m in now as a senior starter.”

Cronin makes her final appearance at McCarthey Athletic Center Friday night with nothing but fond memories – and why not. In 2009 she had a career game as Portland knocked off Gonzaga 70-67.

“That was definitely one of the best moments in my life so far,” recalling her 22-point, 13-rebound game. “With all my family there, friends came out to support me and the team, to make them proud and do something great for the University of Portland.”

After that game, veteran Portland coach Jim Sollars said, “Quite frankly, we didn’t anticipate her being as good as she is. We thought she’d be a great team player, team leader, work hard every day. It’s a good surprise.”

That was no small accomplishment, GU is 42-2 in West Coast Conference home games since McCarthey opened in 2004 and is 83-10 overall.

Cronin, a 5-foot-10 wing, started eight games as a freshman, 23 as a sophomore and all 50 the past two seasons and has averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in her career. All that while getting a degree in mechanical engineering. She wants to get into prosthetics and transplants and has applied to numerous graduate schools.

“I’m just proud of myself for being able to do engineering and basketball,” said Cronin, who is averaging 8.2 points and 3.6 rebounds this season. “I have to thank the coaches for working with me because of the time school takes. It’s been a great experience overall. But I think it’s over after this year.”

Eventually she hopes to end up in the Northwest, though she expects to start her career elsewhere.

She said a share of the credit for her success goes to the competition she faced while a Bullpup, when more than a half-dozen players earned D-I scholarships. with a number of others playing at lower levels.

“I know every single one of those girls,” said Cronin, who averaged 15.9 points her last high school season. “They’re so amazing. I’m just so proud of our entire class. I think that class made us be the athletes we are now. Each team was so competitive, we were spread out everywhere.

“It was so fun to have such great competition throughout the league. It prepared us for college. It’s exciting such a small town like Spokane was able to send out some good girls basketball.”

Century club

Gonzaga had scored at least 100 points just 17 times in its history before hitting the century mark five times this season. It would seem logical that five is a school record but the 1984-85 team managed that feat 10 times.

The Bulldogs moved up to D-I for the 1986-87 season but only hit 100 twice until Kelly Graves arrived. Now the Zags have hit 100 10 times under Graves.

The most recent was last Thursday at St. Mary’s, the second-place team in the WCC. It’s no wonder that the Zags have won 23-straight league games and are 84-7 starting in 2005 when they won the first of their six straight titles.

Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring (85.3), assists (20.4) and assists-to-turnover ratio (1.42), with Courntey Vandersloot leading in assists (9.6).

Ball hog

Idaho senior Yinka Olorunnife can reach the first of several big milestones tonight when the Vandals are home against San Jose State.

Olorunnife, who averages 10.3 rebounds a game and has snagged 18 three different times, is five shy of the record for rebounds in Western Athletic Conference games, which is 535. Shanavia Dowdell holds that and the overall WAC record of 1,025.

One her way to that mark Olorunnife, who has 936 boards, would pass former Vandal great Alli Nieman of Sandpoint for the school record, which is 1,005. … Olorunnife, who has 10 double-doubles this season, surpassed 1,000 points and is 13 points shy of moving into the school top 10. Teammate Rachele Kloke reached 1,000 points last weekend.

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