Almost instantly, Kayla Standish’s eyes welled up with tears.
The standout senior paused on Tuesday to reflect on her four years with the Gonzaga women’s basketball program – but it was evident she’d been doing that for some time.
“It’s just very weird, I’ve been emotional about it lately – for sure,” Standish said.
Standish will play in her final West Coast Conference regular-season contest against BYU on Saturday in front of a sold-out Kennel crowd in a game that will decide if the Zags earn their eighth consecutive conference title. A loss would mean a share of the title, an idea that makes Standish wince.
“We obviously want to win, and for me I just want to end this part of the season on that note, because when I think about it college has just flown by,” she said. “I just have so much to be thankful for. … It’s just like a big family here.
“The hardest part is leaving after all I’ve gotten to experience.”
Though Standish may be gone next season, her footprints will remain at Gonzaga long after.
“When she signed here, that was a huge boost for our program,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “We were on the rise, and she was the best athlete and most highly-recruited player in (Washington) that year.
“I still remember when she said she was coming – I was elated because that’s someone you anchor the program around. That was a big deal.”
Her arrival was one thing, but her contributions in the span of her career have been an even bigger deal.
The 6-foot-3 power forward leads the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game and in rebounds with 7.9 per game. She recently became the all-time blocked shots leader for the Bulldogs, passing Stephanie Hawk in the Zags’ win over Pepperdine on Saturday.
Those are just a few of this season’s notable accomplishments. As a junior, Standish really stepped out of her shell and took on the prominent role it seems she was destined to fill.
She started all 36 games for Gonzaga and scored in double figures in all but five.
She finished the season with 10 double-doubles and became one of five players in Zags history to score more than 600 points in a season (617).
She led the team in rebounds, her 56 percent field-goal shooting ranked 13th in the nation and her 17.1 ppg were second only to Courtney Vandersloot.
Perhaps most notably, though, were the Ellensburg native’s back-to-back 30-point performances in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament – the first time any player in school history had scored that many points in consecutive games. She averaged 21.3 points in the Zags’ push to the Elite Eight, where they were knocked out by Stanford.
“As a lot of smaller town players do, she took a little while to adjust,” Graves said. “She found out pretty quickly that she would be playing behind Heather Bowman and Vivian Frieson – who were two great players at the time – so she did that for a couple years. She came in and gave us solid minutes her first two seasons, but wasn’t the go-to.
“Then last year she became our go-to inside player and you could just see it flourish. It started to build and build and by the time we got into conference play she had the swagger.”
Standish is justifiably confident that her basketball career doesn’t end at Gonzaga.
She hopes to get drafted or earn a tryout with a WNBA team, and if that doesn’t pan out she’ll likely take her game overseas.
“I’ve had to draw more from within myself this year,” she said. “I have more confidence this year because of that and I think I still have more potential in the future. But I don’t want to think about that right now.”
Makes sense. Standish still had unfinished business – although after a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament her freshman year, a Sweet 16 appearance her sophomore year, and last year’s Elite Eight game, there’s only so much Standish hasn’t experienced.
“A Final Four and a championship – that’s really all that’s missing,” Standish said.
“Really, I just want to finish by living all the experiences I have left to the fullest because I think I have so far and I don’t think, everything included, anyone has had a better college experience than me,” she added, tearing up again. “I’ve gotten to experience amazing things, stuff other people don’t get to.”
Gonzaga moved up two spots to No. 21 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Top 25 poll. (24-4, 13-2 West Coast Conference). The Zags are No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. … Eastern Washington has three games remaining on the Big Sky Conference slate, and if the second-place Eagles win out they will be conference champions. Two of their three games are against Idaho State, which is first in the Big Sky.