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Gonzaga’s guiding force

Among Gonzaga’s three starting guards, Haiden Palmer is tops in scoring and steals and Jazmine Redmon leads the way in assists.

But Palmer and Redmon, both juniors, are the first to say that senior guard Taelor Karr is the guiding force for the West Coast Conference champion Bulldogs.

“Whenever we’re struggling, somehow she figures a way to get the rebounding going for us, the scoring going for us, the assists,” Redmon said. “She finds a way, and people may not see it, but she finds a way to make our team better.”

“She’s kind of that calming, confident player on the court,” Palmer said. “A lot of those times when teams would come back on us … she would calm us down, and that kind of rubs off on everybody else.”

GU coach Kelly Graves said several times during the season that Karr should be the WCC’s player of the year, an honor that became official Tuesday.

“She’s had an amazing conference season,” said Graves, named the WCC coach of the year for the seventh time on Tuesday. “Not just scoring, not just shooting, but leadership, distributing the basketball, defense. And she’s played best in the games where we’ve really needed her. That’s what a player of the year does.”

Karr, for her part, sees her role defined by her age. She and reserve guard Meghan Winters are the only seniors among a roster of 14. The last two Gonzaga teams had five seniors on the roster.

“It’s kind of being that Mother Hen kind of figure, I guess,” Karr said.

Karr’s leadership will be on display Saturday when the Bulldogs (25-5) put their 13-game winning streak on the line during the WCC tournament semifinals at Las Vegas. The winner will advance to Monday’s championship game for an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

GU has played in four consecutive NCAA tournaments, advancing to at least the Sweet 16 the last three. The school is the host for first- and second- round games this year.

This has been much less of a whirlwind season for Karr, the Paola, Kan., native who joined Gonzaga last year after transferring from Kansas State.

Unlike most players, Karr didn’t have to sit out a year after transferring because the NCAA ruled that it wasn’t her choice to leave the Big 12 Conference program. Karr said at the time that Kansas State’s coaches “wanted to go in a different direction.”

“Everyone asked me about it last year, but in the end it wasn’t that big a deal and it never really affected me,” Karr said.

Nevertheless, Karr is much more comfortable as a senior.

“Last year, as a junior, I felt like I was a freshman again, because I was new to the program,” she said. “So this year, things have slowed down a lot just because I know what to expect.”

Karr’s highlight games this season were fueled by her 3-point shooting. She hit 8 for 9 and scored a career-high 27 points against San Diego on Jan. 3; 4 for 6 and scored 20 against Portland on Jan. 14; and 6 of 9 while scoring 27 again against Santa Clara on Feb. 21.

For the season, Karr is 63 for 141 (44.7 percent) from long range.

“Even if you don’t think she’s going to shoot it, she’ll shoot it right in your face and make it,” Redmon said.

“People focus on her 3-pointers because she’s been so great,” Palmer said. “But she does so many little things, even behind the scenes at practice, just as a friend and a person.”

Palmer said Karr can always lighten the mood, even during intense games, with her “goofy” jokes.

“I’ve learned so much from her and she calms everyone,” Redmon agreed. “When I’m nervous I’ll look at her and she’s like, ‘Relax, relax.’ ”

Karr said she recognized early this season that Gonzaga’s young team needed a stabilizing force. Now she sees a more confident team that will continue to grow as she moves on with her life.

Karr, a marketing major, will wait until GU’s run ends to decide if she’ll pursue pro basketball or settle down and get a job.

“Honestly, I have no answer to any question,” Karr said. “I really don’t know where I want to live or what I want to do.”

Her future may be vague, but the recent past has gone exactly as Karr hoped.

“The last two years here at Gonzaga have been the best two years of my life,” Karr said. “I can honestly say that having to transfer from K-State and finding Gonzaga has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”