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Gonzaga, Lisa Fortier look to start fast against Cougars

Gonzaga center Emma Wolfram (12) shoots against Pacific during a college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. Pacific won the game 71-59. TYLER TJOMSLAND tylert@spokesman.com (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Emma Wolfram (12) shoots against Pacific during a college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. Pacific won the game 71-59. TYLER TJOMSLAND tylert@spokesman.com (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

For Gonzaga women’s coach Lisa Fortier and her players, this one means a little more.

Thursday night’s home game against Washington State isn’t a must-win – this is early December, after all – but it checks most of the boxes:

Protect the home floor. Beat a regional rival that’s gotten the better of you the last two years.

Oh, and win one for the little guys.

That would be the West Coast Conference, which gets about as much respect in the women’s game as it does in the men’s. That bothers GU coach Lisa Fortier, who defended the quality of her own program as well as the WCC following Tuesday’s practice at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“Gonzaga is a special place, but some people will say that our building isn’t big enough, our conference isn’t good enough and our coaches aren’t veteran enough,” said Fortier.

“We can overcome those things,” Fortier said.

Some would say GU already has. After all, Fortier owns wins over Oregon State and Stanford, which should dispel the critics – shouldn’t it?

“Well, I think so, but you would be amazed at how many people that this community knows pretty well, who believe that we’ve reached our ceiling. “I don’t believe that,” said Fortier, who went on to defend the WCC as getting deeper every year.

That was true last year, as the WCC finished ninth in conference RPI, up from 10th the year before. The Pac-12 was No. 1.

“Our conference is getting better every day,” said Fortier, who last weekend won her 50th game and did it faster than anyone in school history.

But if history is an indicator, No. 51 won’t come easily. As GU’s head coach, Fortier is 0-2 against June Daugherty’s Cougars, who’ve gotten off to fast starts in both contests.

A year ago in Pullman, WSU took an early 19-8 lead and held the Bulldogs to 28 percent shooting and en route to a 55-48 win.

Said post Emma Wolfram: “WSU is one of our biggest non-conference rivals. We know how much they’re going to pressure us, and we can’t get rattled and flustered the way we have in the past.”

After dropping two of three in the Paradise Jam, the Bulldogs (5-2) got back some confidence with a 79-39 win over Presbyterian.

It won’t be that easy against WSU, which is 5-3 after an overtime loss to unbeaten Boise State. The Cougars have size and depth in the frontcourt with forwards Borislava Hristova (16.3 points, 3.6 rebounds) and Louise Brown (10.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg).

“They don’t have a lot of holes, and they’re capable players,” Fortier said. “June either develops or recruits really well-rounded players – there’s no weaknesses you can exploit.”

Actually, there is one: WSU is the fifth-worst free-throw shooting team in the nation (340th out of 344 teams), hitting just 54.9 percent.

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