Gonzaga planned an evening of honoring seniors Taelor Karr and Meghan Winters and celebrating another West Coast Conference basketball championship.
Amid those plans, Portland attempted to be the ultimate party poopers.
In the end, Gonzaga toasted a successful end to its regular season Thursday, but not before Portland pushed the Bulldogs to the limit.
Jazmine Redmon hit two free throws with 19 seconds left and Shelby Cheslek came up with a key steal with 5 seconds remaining as the Bulldogs (25-5, 15-1 WCC) held off the Pilots 59-56 at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga will carry a 13-game winning streak and the No. 1 seed into next week’s WCC tournament at Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs had already clinched their ninth consecutive WCC title, but they didn’t figure to have so much trouble against the Pilots (10-18, 5-10), whom they defeated 82-51 on Jan. 14 in Portland.
Poor shooting from the start hurt Gonzaga. The Bulldogs shot 2 of 18 on 3-pointers and 19 of 58 from the field overall.
“You know, good shooting’s contagious and so is bad shooting,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “It looked like we had some kids who struggled with their confidence.”
“We didn’t play bad, we just didn’t hit shots,” said Karr, who finished 1 for 8 from the field but was crucial at the free-throw line by making 7 of 8. “Then I thought we kind of got down on ourselves a little bit.”
The Bulldogs were also lacking some inside power as junior center Stephanie Golden was sidelined with the flu. Golden had scored 48 points in GU’s last four games.
“Stephanie is always such a strong, strong post, so not having her presence in post kind of shook us a little bit,” said Cheslek, who had a team-high 13 rebounds and tied Karr with a team-high 10 points.
The Bulldogs appeared in control early when an 11-2 run gave them a 13-6 lead with 12:09 left in the first half.
But the Pilots pecked away, forging a tie at 21 on Kari Luttinen’s 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the half and trailing 27-24 at halftime.
Karr’s 3-pointer and Cheslek’s five points inside built the lead to 34-24 lead early in the second half. Haiden Palmer hit back-to-back baskets for a 47-38 edge with 9:07 left, but she hit the floor hard 1 minute later on Amy Pupa’s foul and didn’t score again.
Cheslek’s free throw got the lead to 50-40 with 7:21 to go, but she soon picked up her fourth foul and took the bench.
With Cheslek out, the Pilots narrowed the gap. Cheslek returned with 2:36 left and immediately blocked a shot as Portland attempted to pull within four.
The Pilots trailed 57-56 after Annika Holopainen’s 3-pointer with 1:15 left. Luttinen missed a jumper with 25 seconds left and fouled Redmon, who hit 2 of 2 free throws for breathing room. Cheslek’s steal avoided a potential tying 3-point attempt.
“We didn’t have a good shooting night, but I give (Portland) a lot of credit,” Graves said. “They came to play tonight. They had nothing to lose.”
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