The Saint Mary’s Gaels made it a game, but the Gonzaga women’s basketball team shot its way to an 80-72 victory Thursday night to earn its 11th consecutive West Coast Conference crown.
The Bulldogs set a record with their first 15-0 start in conference play to allow Lisa Fortier to cut down the nets in her first season as head coach.
“We write it on the board every game: WCC champs,” Fortier said. “It’s pretty exciting and fun to actually do it.”
Gonzaga senior guard Keani Albanez scored the first points of the game and the first points of the second half en route to a career-high 23 points to lead all scorers in front of 5,719 fans inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“Knowing what was on the line tonight definitely gave us that extra boost,” said Albanez, who hit three of Gonzaga’s 10 3-pointers. “To keep buying into what the coaches tell us and to have it all pay off is amazing.”
Gonzaga (22-4, 15-0) came into the night with a three-game lead over second-place Saint Mary’s (18-8, 11-4). The Gaels never led in the game, but the outcome remained in doubt until the final buzzer.
Despite missing several early layup attempts, Gonzaga raced out to a 12-4 lead on the sharp shooting of Albanez.
The Gaels missed several shots before Amanda Arter started hitting everything. A player who averages only 1.7 points a game led the Gaels with 11 first-half points and finished with 16.
Gonzaga took a 32-20 lead when Emma Wolfram hit a long jumper with 4:26 left in the half.
Gonzaga didn’t score again as Carly Turner scored seven points in a 12-0 run as the Gaels tied it just before halftime.
“I was mostly concerned with our defense. We weren’t getting stops,” Fortier said. “They are a very good closing team. But Keani came out (in the second half) and hit a shot and we got a 3 from Elle (Tinkle). From then on, we were OK.”
Tinkle hit a trio of 3-pointers and had 13 points and five steals. Senior forward Sunny Greinacher scored 11 points and junior guard Georgia Stirton finished with 15 points and five assists.
“With (former coach) Kelly (Graves) leaving, everyone was apprehensive about how we would do,” Stirton said. “I had some big shoes to fill. I just focused on getting better … and we showed what we can do.”
Junior center Shelby Cheslek finished with six points, four blocks and seven rebounds to become only the 15th Zag player to grab 600 rebounds in her career.
“They obviously wanted to win. (Saint Mary’s) came to play,” Cheslek said. “They always play physical.”
The Gaels outscored the Zags 32-14 in the paint, 18-4 in second-chance points and 37-12 in bench points. The Gaels also outrebounded the Zags 37-25.
The Gaels’ Hayley Hendricksen (Lewis and Clark High) scored seven points. Carli Rosenthal (Coeur d’Alene) scored five points and grabbed six rebounds. Devyn Galland (LC) scored two points for Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels’ Hannah Kaser banked in a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to cut the lead to 72-67, but Gonzaga hit eight consecutive free throws to seal the victory.
“In a close game like this, it comes down to small things,” Fortier said. “We got to the line and our team did a really good job down the stretch at hitting free throws.”
Gonzaga must turn around for its final home game against Pacific (19-7, 11-4) on Saturday, which will be senior night for Greinacher and Albanez.
“We have focused on one game at a time all year long,” Fortier said. “Our goal is not to cut down the nets and limp into the WCC tournament. I don’t think it will be so hard to get up for the game.”
Eastern Washington 88, Southern Utah 67: Junior Hayley Hodgins led five Eastern women in double figures, and the Eagles won their fifth straight with an 88-67 win over Southern Utah, in a Big Sky Conference game on Reese Court Thursday night.
Hodgins scored 19 points, Lexie Nelson added 15, tying a career high with seven assists, and teammate Melissa Williams added 12 points and 10 rebounds as the second-place Eagles (16-8, 9-4 Big Sky) inched closer to league-leading Montana in the standings, sitting 1 ½ games behind.
Idaho 78, Northern Arizona 43: Stacey Barr scored 28 points, Christina Salvatore grabbed 11 rebounds and the Vandals (11-13, 5-8) cruised to victory over the Lumberjacks (11-13, 7-6).
Barr scored nine of her points during a 22-0 run that closed out the first half.
Ali Forde and Geraldine McCorkell each had nine rebounds for the Vandals, who out-rebounded Northern Arizona 53-34 in the game.
North Idaho 76, Snow College 65: Jamaal Robateau had 21 points, Braian Angola-Rodas added 16 points and eight rebounds and the Cardinals (21-6, 9-5) defeated the Badgers (17-12, 6-8) in a Scenic West game at Ephraim, Utah.
Snow College’s Gentry Thomas led all scorers with 27 points.
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