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Gonzaga women have momentum heading into WCCs

Thu., March 1, 2012, 6:18 p.m.

LAS VEGAS – The Gonzaga women’s basketball team won its eighth consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season championship and it proved to be much harder than the seventh a year ago.

And perhaps more impressive.

The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs, who compiled a 14-2 WCC record to finish two games clear of BYU and San Diego, won conference games by an average of 15.3 points compared to 27.3 in 2011. That’s partially explained by the addition of BYU, which has spent time in the Top 25, and the fact that the WCC ranks eighth in conference RPI, just two spots behind the Pac-12.

Gonzaga didn’t dominate foes the way the Courtney Vandersloot-led team did last season, but this year’s crew claimed a few milestones of its own.

“We have the exact same record as we did last year (25-4) and arguably a better resume,” coach Kelly Graves said. “Last year we had a bad loss to Mississippi; we don’t have any this season. This year we have three top 50 wins; last year we didn’t have any.

“I’m ecstatic. We have three seniors who had played a lot and they’ve been important. Everybody else hadn’t played much so we were going with transfers or freshmen or kids who hadn’t got a lot of time. When you put all that together, you don’t know how it’s going to go.”

It’s gone quite well to this point. Gonzaga avenged a blowout loss to BYU with a 17-point win in the rematch last week to clinch an outright championship. The top-seeded Bulldogs have a bye into the semifinals Saturday in the WCC Tournament at the Orleans Arena.

“It hasn’t been as easy and it certainly hasn’t been as pretty, but it’s effective nonetheless,” Graves said. “Our margin for error isn’t as great. We’ve had to win a lot more games down the stretch, but I’ve been real pleased.

“Our game against BYU was as good as we’ve played in the conference season at both ends of the floor and to do it in the final game when it meant the most is important.”

BYU also has a bye into the semifinals. Third-seeded San Diego was swept by Gonzaga and BYU, but went 12-0 vs. the rest of the conference. No. 4 Saint Mary’s split with Gonzaga and BYU.

“We have four (WCC) teams with 20-plus wins, that’s never happened before, and two teams (have been) ranked,” Graves said. “I think it’s as open as it’s been certainly over the last 3-4 years.”

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