Gonzaga women advance to WCC title game
LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga’s top two scorers were 2 of 20 from the field at one point and the Bulldogs were still in control of the game.
The Bulldogs’ defense and deep bench delivered and Shelby Cheslek grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds as top-seeded Gonzaga shut down No. 4 Saint Mary’s 68-60 Monday in the WCC women’s basketball tournament semifinals at Orleans Arena.
The Bulldogs (28-4) will face No. 2-seed BYU in Tuesday’s title game at 1 p.m. BYU beat No. 3 Pacific 77-64 in Monday’s other semifinal.
Lindsay Sherbert scored all 14 of her points in the final six minutes of the half as the 18th-ranked Bulldogs (28-4) opened up a cushion that allowed them to hold off the Gaels’ second-half run. Cheslek, the 6-foot-5 sophomore from Pullman, added 11 points to post her second straight double-double.
Leading scorer Haiden Palmer essentially duplicated Friday’s performance, struggling in the first half before heating up in the second to finish with 16 points and four steals. She had 13 second-half points versus San Francisco.
Sunny Greinacher scored seven points on 2-of-12 shooting, but one of her field goals bumped GU’s lead to 53-47 with 8:30 left.
“It’s nice to know we can win a game like this when they’re having that kind of (shooting) effort,” said coach Kelly Graves, noting that both were taking quality shots for the most part. “I’ve had some great players, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a harder worker or more competitive, tough kid (than Palmer).”
It’s also nice to have a versatile bench and the WCC’s best defense. Danielle Walter chipped in six points. Elle Tinkle added four boards and her defense, along with Jazmine Redmon’s, finally slowed Saint Mary’s senior Jackie Nared, who scored 29 points but missed her last five field-goal attempts.
“I think we handled it on the defensive end and Shelby gets 14 rebounds,” Palmer said. “You need that kind of stuff to beat good teams.”
Sherbert made three 3s, a layup and three free throws to help Gonzaga take a 37-26 halftime lead. Part of the run was fueled by Gaels’ turnovers, which seemed to come in waves. They had four in the opening minutes and seven more when Gonzaga built a double-digit lead.
Sherbert has drained 6 of 9 3-pointers and scored 31 points in two tournament games.
“I found myself open on 3s and just let it fly,” Sherbert said. “I felt good in warm-ups.”
Gonzaga matched bruises with the Gaels in a physical scrap that resulted in 47 fouls, including numerous whistles for touch fouls 35 feet from the hoop, and 56 free throw attempts. Saint Mary’s dominated the rebounding early, leading 8-1, but the Bulldogs evened it at 40 by game’s end. They had a 10-3 edge in second-chance points.
Saint Mary’s senior Danielle “Mauldin is a beast on the boards,” Cheslek said, “so that was one of our keys to really block her out and be like her on the boards.”
Mauldin had 11 rebounds before fouling out late. Nared was more of an issue for Gonzaga. She had 16 points by halftime and added five more in a 9-0 run that sliced GU’s lead to 39-35.
Nared’s last field goal came with 11:20 remaining.
“Late in the game she might have gotten tired,” Graves said of Nared, who played 40 minutes. “When you have to work hard to get the ball and work harder to get shots against our better defenders it’s going to take a toll.”
Saint Mary’s (22-9) was within 61-55, but the Bulldogs finished it off with seven free throws in the last 1:26.
“We have a very specific formula,” Gaels coach Paul Thomas said. “One glaring thing is three assists. That’s not going to get it done. We normally make more free throws than our opponent shoots. We were 18 of 25, they were 20 of 31. Rebounds, we’re even. Not a good formula.”