Head coach Kelly Graves’ unhurried tempo and ease in tone was contrary to his team’s delivery of an adrenaline rush to the fifth-largest Gonzaga women’s basketball crowd in McCarthey Athletic Center history.
That’s the thing about grind-it-out victories – the bigger the risk, the greater the reward.
On the line for No. 20 Gonzaga this season is an eighth consecutive West Coast Conference championship. In front of 5,829 fans on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs shook a slow start and earned a 69-58 victory over San Diego (16-6, 7-3 WCC) to maintain sole possession of first place in the WCC after No. 22 BYU’s (21-4, 9-2) loss to Pepperdine on Thursday.
It was an important step in the right direction for the Bulldogs (21-3, 10-1).
“I was really proud of our team – that was a hard-fought game,” Graves said. “I thought for the most part in the first half they dictated the tempo. In the second half … I thought we got it out, ran a little bit, got some easy buckets and a couple of our big-time players stepped up.
“Kayla (Standish) and Katelan (Redmon) did a great job … in the second half, especially.”
The Bulldogs built an 11-point lead in the first half, but Dominique Conners – who led the Toreros with 20 points – sparked a 9-2 run that brought San Diego within 25-21 at halftime.
Senior Standish – the Bulldogs’ leading scorer – paced Gonzaga in the first half with six points, and finished with a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Redmon’s team-leading, 24-point performance was a welcome boost after the senior, who averages nearly 13 points a game, scored only four points in Gonzaga’s win at Portland on Thursday. Redmon scored 17 of her 24 in the second half and also finished with six rebounds and a pair of steals.
“It was a little stagnant there in the beginning … back and forth,” Redmon said. “Then we finally got the tempo going, we got some fast breaks, we got the press and we started to get some steals and the energy started to come forward.”
Haiden Palmer was a large part of the energy burst. Palmer picked up two quick fouls in the first half and was limited to 8 minutes. She only sat for 1 minute in the second half, adding 14 points and two steals for the Bulldogs.
“Haiden’s great,” Graves said. “She gives us a lift, you know. She’s just kind of gritty and tough and it was nice to see in the second half, she got us a couple of steals and baskets.”
Although Conners scored 20 and Izzy Chilcott added 14 points for San Diego – ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense – the Bulldogs held sophomore Amy Kame, who averages 11.4 points a game, to eight points and senior guard Morgan Woodrow (14.5 ppg) to six.
“We kind of are known for our offense, and tonight we showed that we can defend, too,” Graves said. “I thought we did a good job defensively – really kind of tough, grind-it-out win.
“I thought the crowd was really big tonight. I thought they were really into it, because they could tell that two teams that really work hard and play good basketball played tonight. They appreciated it. … That was a rewarding game.”
Up next for Gonzaga, which only has five regular-season games remaining, is the first meeting of the season with BYU. The Bulldogs will travel to Provo, Utah, to face the Cougars on Thursday.
“We’ve been looking forward to this one for a while,” Redmon said. “We’re definitely going to have to bring our best down there.”