Zags play second-seeded San Diego in final
LAS VEGAS – The postseason looked a lot like Gonzaga’s regular season.
The top-seeded Bulldogs utilized multiple scoring options – it was Shelby Cheslek’s and Kiara Kudron’s turn Saturday – and smothering pressure defense to crush No. 4 seed BYU 62-43 in the WCC women’s basketball tournament semifinals in front of 7,896 (tickets sold) at the Orleans Arena.
Gonzaga (26-5), which lost to BYU in last year’s title game, handled the Cougars (21-10) for the third time this season. The Bulldogs will face No. 2 San Diego, which thumped No. 3 Saint Mary’s 74-53, for the championship Monday at 1.
Gonzaga didn’t have its best performance offensively, making 38 percent of its shots. WCC player of the year Taelor Karr took a hard fall while being fouled in pursuit of a rebound in the first half. She played only 24 minutes and spent several minutes on the bench trying to stretch out a tender lower back. All-WCC guard Haiden Palmer made just 4 of 13 shots.
Kudron, a freshman forward who hadn’t scored in two previous games against BYU, maneuvered for six points as Gonzaga closed the first half with a 12-2 run for a 30-19 lead.
“Coach (Kelly Graves) always tells me to get every board and putback and play strong so that’s just what I did,” said Kudron, who had eight first-half points to surpass her season high of seven.
Cheslek, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, made 6 of 9 shots and matched her season-high 16 points, both coming against the Cougars.
“If you look at our high scorers, I’ll bet we’ve had seven or eight lead us,” Graves said. “That’s kind of who we are. It’s nice as a coach knowing somebody is going to do it. It’s also not nice that you don’t know who that is.”
GU’s defense did the rest. Jazmine Redmon, the WCC defensive player of the year, hounded standout point guard Haley Steed, who had three turnovers and scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Jennifer Hamson, a 6-7 junior center, scored five points, six below her average.
BYU’s 43 points was a season-low by nine points.
“What you saw is what Gonzaga did to us the whole year,” said Cougars coach Jeff Judkins, who has three players sidelined with ACL injuries, including top scorer Lexi Eaton (15.6 ppg). “They just locked into our wings – they can’t beat anyone on the dribble – they fronted Jen and got physical and hope the refs don’t call it, and then they lock down Haley full court and try to wear her down.”
Cheslek started Gonzaga’s closing first-half run with three free throws. After a BYU turnover, Palmer found Kudron for a transition layup. Palmer dished to Meghan Winters for a 3-pointer and Cheslek’s pass set up Kudron for a left-handed layup.
“We’re not up there in most individual stats,” Graves said, “but what we do is share it.”
Redmon had five of Gonzaga’s 13 assists. Palmer had five of the team’s 13 steals. BYU committed 22 turnovers and made just two 3-pointers after draining 13 against Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals.
“We were trying to get some time off the clock and slow down their offense,” Palmer said. “Pressure them everywhere, fly around and not let them get into rhythm.”
Gonzaga led by as many as 23 in the second half. BYU closed within 44-32 on Morgan Bailey’s layup but seconds later Palmer raced down court for a layup, starting a 6-0 spurt.
The Bulldogs defeated San Diego 77-57 and 62-50 during the regular season.
San Diego 74, Saint Mary’s 53: The second-seeded Toreros cruised in their victory over the third-seeded Gaels (20-10) in their semifinal.
The Toreros were paced by junior guard Amy Kame, who scored a game-high 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, while dishing out five assists. Felicia Wijenberg added 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field, and pulled down four rebounds.
Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
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