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Graves pleased with GU’s standing

TUESDAY, JAN. 28, 2014, 5:19 P.M.

Kelly Graves likes where his team stands at the halfway point in the WCC season. (The Spokesman-Review)
Kelly Graves likes where his team stands at the halfway point in the WCC season. (The Spokesman-Review)

Earlier this season, Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves said he wouldn’t look at the conference standings until all the teams play each other once.

Now at the halfway point, Graves likes what he sees, with the No. 22 Bulldogs leading the West Coast Conference at 8-1 and 18-3 overall.

“Let’s face it, we are one free throw away from being 9-0. With all those road games, that is quite something,” he said.

The lone loss came in a road game Dec. 28 at Saint Mary’s when Lindsay Sherbert hit one free throw to tie, but missed the second. In overtime, the Gaels eventually won 79-78 in a game where starting point guard Jazmine Redmon suffered a high-ankle sprain.

“Honestly, we are tired,” said Graves of his team, which was forced to play seven of the first nine conference games on the road. “I didn’t address that with the team because I didn’t want to make any excuses. But, we’ll be home for four straight games. It will give us a chance to get our legs back underneath us.”

Starting the second-half of conference play, San Diego (18-2) is in second place at 7-2; Saint Mary’s and BYU both have 6-3 conference records and Pacific is 5-4.

However, the 10-9 Tigers had a huge win Saturday at Saint Mary’s. Pacific earlier beat BYU at home and lost at San Diego in overtime.

“I think Pacific is a pretty good team,” Graves said. “They had losses to (Loyola Marymount) and Portland at home. Those were … head-scratchers. But the cream is staring to rise to the top. The four teams everybody thought would be up there are, with Pacific a game out of the three spot.”

Gonzaga, which is also up to No. 17 in the USA Today Coaches poll, plays at 6 p.m. Thursday at home against San Clara and Saturday against San Francisco at 2.

Because of the brutal road schedule early, the Bulldogs will have seven of the last nine conference games at home.

“Hopefully, we will create some separation at some point,” Graves said. “But we expect it to be a battle all the way to the end.”

Speaking of battling, Redmon continues to play through pain from the high-ankle sprain suffered against Saint Mary’s. As a result, junior guard Danielle Walter, of Pasco, has been playing more minutes, he said.

Redmon’s “ankle won’t be fully healthy all year unless you shut her down for a few weeks,” Graves said. “But Danielle has been clicking with the group. It’s a team game. You play whoever is working well together.”

Vandal raid

While Gonzaga leads its conference, the only area Division I team with an undefeated conference schedule thus far is Idaho.

Led by all-everything 5-8 junior guard Stacey Barr, who is averaging 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, and 6-1 senior post player Alyssa Charlston, the Vandals have pillaged their way to a 7-0 record some two games shy of the halfway point for the Western Athletic Conference slate.

The Vandals are a terror inside, with Barr, 6-2 sophomore post Ali Forde and Charlston all averaging better than seven rebounds a game. Charlston is also the second-leading scorer with 15.1 points a contest.

Idaho plays Saturday at Seattle University (10-10) in the first of three-consecutive road games. The Saturday game could be pivotal because Seattle is currently second in the WAC at 5-2.

Legacy Pirate

The Whitworth women’s basketball team has raced out to a 12-5 record and currently sits in a solid third place in the Northwest Conference standings at 6-2 halfway through league play.

As little as she wants to talk about it, the Pirates team is only four wins away from notching 300 for coach Helen Higgs. She would be the first women’s coach to attain such a feat in the Northwest Conference.

“That’s what I’m told,” Higgs said. “We are eight wins from a potential conference championship. That is the way I look at it.”

The league is led by undefeated Whitman, (17-0, 8-0) and George Fox (16-1, 7-1), which lost its only game to Whitman.

George Fox won a close 59-56 game Jan. 17 at home against Whitworth. The Pirates also lost 62-57 Jan. 21 at Whitman.

Both teams, which are ranked 3rd and 8th in the Top 25 poll, must travel to Spokane during the second half of conference play.

“We took a good hour before practice to talk about what we are doing well,” Higgs said. “I’m really happy with how we are playing. If we continue to improve and grow, there are more good things ahead of us this year.”

As for the milestone, Higgs – who is in her 20th year at Whitworth – said she may take time to reflect one the season is over.

“People obviously bring it up,” she said of her impending 300th win. “One, it means I found a place where I fit. And second, I’ve had great teams, great players and great staff.”

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