Gonzaga’s 27-point lead over BYU had shrunk to nine in a matter of 71/2 minutes.
The smart money said the Bulldogs would attempt to stem the tide by turning to team leader Taelor Karr, top scorer Haiden Palmer or inside presence Sunny Greinacher.
The smart money was wrong.
Showing no hesitation, Bulldogs senior reserve guard Meghan Winters set up outside and hit a 3-pointer. The shot stopped BYU’s momentum, boosted GU’s lead back to double digits, and paved the way for a crucial 74-59 West Coast Conference basketball win on Jan. 17.
One week later, the sluggish Bulldogs were clinging to a 20-18 lead at Pepperdine with 8 minutes left in the first half. Winters, who had just entered the game, hit a 3-pointer, a jumper and another 3-pointer in a little more than 3 minutes to put GU in charge 30-19.
The eight points against Pepperdine were a season high for Winters. She matched that total one week later with two 3-pointers and 3-for-5 field-goal shooting against Loyola Marymount, and eclipsed it Thursday by hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers in 11 minutes during a win at San Francisco.
The veteran who had scored 37 points during her first 16 games of the season (Winters did not play against Ohio State or Washington State) has scored 37 in her last six.
“She’s given us a huge lift off the bench and she’s the kind of player who can stretch the defense,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “It seems like every year we have that senior step up that you may not expect. … And this year it’s been Meghan Winters.”
“I think my teammates … believe in me, so that gives me a lot of confidence to come in and score and shoot the 3 when I have the chance,” Winters said.
Winters is the only player on the Bulldogs’ roster who has played four consecutive seasons. GU’s other senior, Karr, transferred from Kansas State. Winters is the team’s lone connection to Gonzaga’s first Sweet 16 appearance, in 2009-10.
“I’m just trying to remind the girls that it’s a great tradition here and to keep that going,” Winters said. “Everyone in the past has done so much for what we have right now in our program and we have to keep that in mind.”
Graves recruited Winters out of Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo. Winters said Gonzaga was the perfect fit and she has never regretted the decision.
Winters has a superior basketball lineage from her father, Brian, the 12th pick in the 1974 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Brian played nine years in the NBA, mostly with the Milwaukee Bucks, and appeared in two All-Star Games.
Currently an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats, Brian’s career included head coaching jobs with the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.
“He would always work me out whenever I asked, gave me tips and came to all my games,” Meghan said of her father. “I can talk to him about anything, from basketball, to school, to life, and he’s just been a really big influence on my life.”
Brian is expected to attend Thursday’s big home game against Saint Mary’s, the only West Coast Conference team to defeat Gonzaga (19-5, 9-1) this season.
Winters was limited to 9 minutes and two points in the first Saint Mary’s game, when Gonzaga shot 29 percent from the field. Her increased playing time and scoring have come during the Bulldogs’ seven-game winning streak since the loss to the Gaels.
“I know my role on the team is to come in and score,” Winters said. “I’ve just been playing solid defense and giving the team whatever they need when I come in.”
“I’m really happy for Meghan, because I think she really feels like she’s a part of all of our success,” Graves said.