The No. 22 Gonzaga women’s basketball team found itself in a track meet with upset-minded Pacific but somehow found enough points Saturday to win 81-77 at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Having cut down the nets Thursday night after clinching its 10th straight West Coast Conference title, coach Kelly Graves said he had to focus his team on playing the tough Tigers team with the additional distraction of Senior Night.
“After cutting the nets, it’s always human nature to relax,” Graves said. “But I addressed it yesterday and today. We wanted to go undefeated at home and we wanted to go into the tournament by making a statement.”
All three seniors, Jazmine Redmon, Haiden Palmer and Stephanie Golden, were solid, but Gonzaga’s youth carried the day as junior Sunny Greinacher scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (26-4, 16-2).
“We already had our championship celebration,” Greinacher said. “This was about winning our last home game. We played really tough. That’s’ what it came down to in the end.”
Junior Lindsay Sherbert also shook off a recent shooting slump and scored 18 points to go with six rebounds.
Several runs by the Tigers (17-11, 12-6) cut the lead to five points on three occasions with under a minute to play.
But Redmon hit two free throws and Greinacher hit four to clinch the victory. Pacific guard Kiki Moore scored a layup at the buzzer for her 33rd point and the final margin.
“We want to have these tough, grind-it-out kind of wins,” said Palmer, who scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “They are a physical, athletic team that makes you work for everything.”
The Gonzaga offense often starts fast when Palmer hits her first shot. This day was no different as she hit a 3-pointer for her first points to give the Bulldogs the lead at 5-2.
The Bulldogs kept pounding the ball inside to Greinacher, Golden, and Shelby Cheslek to counter the fast-paced scoring of Pacific’s Moore and Hailie Eackles, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds.
Graves said Pacific played four guards to create a match-up problem for the Bulldogs. He countered by forcing the ball into his taller players in the paint.
“Something had to give. We had the advantage inside,” he said. “It was one of those nights.”
Gonzaga built the lead up to 15 until Pacific surged behind a wave of points from Moore and Madison Parrish.
Down 39-34, Pacific held for the final shot of the half. But Parrish could not get the 3-pointer to go and the half ended with a five point Gonzaga lead.
In the second half, Pacific retook the lead on a layup from Moore at 53-51 with 11:45 to play but Gonzaga reclaimed the lead for good with four straight points from Palmer.
The Tigers, who came into the game having won their last six games, made several late runs but Greinacher and Sherbert kept hitting shots to keep them at bay.
“It’s always important to win a game like this. I liked our composure down the stretch,” Graves said. “It was a good win against a good team.”
After the game, Graves thanked his seniors, who each spoke to the crowd.
“Senior night is always sweeter with a victory,” Graves said. “This has been an amazing year. We don’t care who does it. We just care that it gets done.”
He lauded Redmon as the “heart and soul” of GU, and praised Golden who lost minutes on a roster of talented players.
As for Palmer, Graves called her a fierce competitor.
“I’ll tell you, there isn’t a tougher player who’s ever played on this court,” he said.