It was a surprise party, all right.
On the 49th birthday of Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves, Saint Mary’s handed his Bulldogs, ranked No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 23 in the AP rankings, a shocking 66-63 loss at McCarthey Athletic Center Saturday afternoon.
Gonzaga (15-3, 4-1) hadn’t lost a West Coast Conference game since falling at Pepperdine on Feb. 21, 2009, a streak of 34 straight, and hadn’t lost a conference game at home since Portland won 70-67 on Feb. 8, 2009, which is why the Bulldogs always have a target on their back.
“We’ve been in that situation for years, so it’s something we are familiar with and have always risen to the challenge before,” Graves said. “Sometime somebody was going to beat us, you just hope it wasn’t going to be a contender here at home. Give them the credit. They outplayed us. You can tell they wanted it more when the game could have gone either way in the second half.”
As for the birthday thing, that wasn’t quite as rare.
“(Loyola Marymount coach) Julie Wilhoit’s birthday is Jan. 14, too, and she beat me on my birthday at her place,” Graves said, referring to a 75-46 decision in 2006 as well as the end of the Bulldogs’ 10-game winning streak. “I’m disappointed, but honestly, I’m fine. Maybe it will get us refocused.”
The Gaels (14-5, 5-1 WCC), who trailed 33-24 at the half, shot 61 percent in the second half and held Gonzaga to 29.7 percent, ending a 17-game losing streak to the Bulldogs that dated to Jan. 17, 2004.
“A lot of things have to go right to get a win like this,” sixth-year Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas said after his first win against Graves. “They missed free throws, we made free throws. There are just so many things that have to go right.”
The Gaels trailed by 10 with 15 minutes left, but they went on a 16-2 run to take a 47-43 lead with 9:17 to play. Gonzaga recovered, using the energy from the crowd of 5,804, to run off five quick points to lead 48-47. But a quick seven points, highlighted by a big 3-pointer from Jasmine Smith, gave the Gaels a 60-52 lead with 2:08 to go.
Then the Bulldogs, who shot miserably all game, made five straight baskets, twice pulling within one. After a Taelor Karr 3-pointer made it 62-61 with 51 seconds to play, Danielle Mauldin made two free throws. After a Katelan Redmon basket, Smith made a pair with 8.3 seconds remaining.
Kayla Standish, who led GU with 18 points, had a good look from the top of the key at the buzzer. Redmon added 13 points, Haiden Palmer 12 and Karr 10. Kelly Bowen had 12 rebounds.
Alex Carbonel led Saint Mary’s with 18 points. Smith, Mauldin and reserve Morgan Hatten had 11 apiece.
“I think the difference is some kids made some plays,” Thomas said. “Not that we didn’t make plays before … I just think our perimeter kids made some plays. … I’m not going to say (we had) an advantage, because I don’t think we have an advantage.”
Saint Mary’s made 16 of 20 free throws to overcome 19 turnovers and kept Gonzaga’s offense off-balance.
“I have always felt that was two-fold,” Graves said. “You’ve got to give credit to the defense. But offensively, we had shots around the rim and we played a little soft. Give credit to the defense. They’re physical, but the reality is we had a lot of shots that typically fall for us.
“But you can’t shoot 12 for 20 from the line and 34 percent from the field and expect to win.”