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Tough road to title game for GU women

Kelly Graves calls his team the best defensive team he has had at Gonzaga. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Kelly Graves calls his team the best defensive team he has had at Gonzaga. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga earned the No. 1 seed for the WCC women’s basketball tournament and rightfully so.

To earn the tournament title at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas the 21st-ranked Bulldogs could encounter three opponents that gave them fits at least once during the regular season.

Gonzaga (26-4, 16-2) opens Friday at 6 in the quarterfinals against the winner of today’s game between No. 8 San Francisco and No. 9 Loyola Marymount. The Lions took Gonzaga to overtime in Los Angeles in late January.

If the seeds hold up – and that’s a big if with the lower half of the conference having demonstrated it can upset the upper-echelon teams – the Bulldogs would then face No. 4 Saint Mary’s, which defeated Gonzaga in overtime in the conference opener. Win that and the Bulldogs could see No. 2 BYU in the title game. The Cougars knocked off the Bulldogs 62-52 three weeks ago.

“I’m only thinking about winning the game on Friday,” GU coach Kelly Graves said, “but potentially we could be playing arguably the three teams that played us the toughest. It’s not going to be easy. The whole league is so much better.”

The Bulldogs have been getting the job done all season, winning a 10th straight WCC championship and carrying an impressive plus-20.2 scoring margin. The numbers are impressive, but there’s some new math at work here.

Graves calls his current crew the best defensive team in his 14 seasons as Gonzaga’s head coach. Offensively, he says it’s the “strangest year we’ve ever had.”

The Bulldogs rank in the top five nationally in steals and lead the WCC in rebounding by a wide margin, despite the fact guard Haiden Palmer, at 5.8 per game, is the only Bulldog in the top 16. On average, opponents manage just 55.5 points on 36.1-percent shooting.

“Part of it is we have a couple of good ball-hawkers in Palmer and (Jazmine) Redmon,” Graves said. “We have versatility, a bunch of 6-foot, 6-2 wings that are interchangeable and a couple of kids inside with a lot of length that can contest shots.”

The numbers offensively are steady at 75.7 points per game. How the Bulldogs arrive at those 75.7 points is the interesting part.

“(Keani) Albanez scored 14 points against Saint Mary’s (Thursday), Saturday she had two,” Graves said. “(Sunny) Greinacher had three points Thursday, 24 Saturday. That’s us in a nutshell. I like those players that if they’re going to give us 4 and 3, they’re going to give us 4 and 3 every game. We’ve really juggled it.

“But we have great depth. Haiden’s averaging 29 minutes, nobody else is over 23. If we played our top six against our next six, it’d be 5-5.”

The Bulldogs obviously want to win the WCC tournament, but they seem to have an NCAA tournament safety net. They’re 14th in RPI and projected as a fifth seed by