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GU women picked to win WCC title

After Gonzaga guard Shaniqua Nilles was taken off the court by stretcher, Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier talks with players during the second half of a WNIT first round college basketball game, Thurs., March 17, 2016, at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, WA. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
After Gonzaga guard Shaniqua Nilles was taken off the court by stretcher, Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier talks with players during the second half of a WNIT first round college basketball game, Thurs., March 17, 2016, at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, WA. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

West Coast Conference women’s basketball coaches expect Gonzaga to rebound from a rare down year and return to the top of the standings.

Coaches projected Gonzaga to finish first by the slimmest of margins in the preseason poll released Monday at the WCC Tip-Off event in Los Angeles.

Gonzaga picked up five first-place votes and 76 points. BYU, which ended the Zags’ streak of 11 straight WCC regular-season titles a year ago, was second with four first-place votes and 75 points. Coaches aren’t allowed to vote for their own team.

“It’s an honor that we’re well respected from our fellow coaches,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “Our team puts enough pressure on ourselves. We want to be successful. We have lofty goals. We put pressure on ourselves to achieve our goals.”

Saint Mary’s, which received one first-place vote, was picked third. San Diego was fourth, followed by Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, San Francisco and Pacific. Pepperdine and Portland tied for ninth.

Gonzaga finished 19-14 last year. The fifth-seeded Zags lost in the opening round of the WCC tournament for the first time since 2006. It was the first time since 2006 that Gonzaga wasn’t seeded No. 1.

GU, after a run of seven straight NCAA tournament appearances, lost to Utah in the second round of the WNIT last year.

“Last year we had a lot of adversity with injuries and a few people that were redshirting,” senior forward Kiara Kudron said. “That’s always one of our main goals to make it to the NCAA tournament. The NCAAs would be nice.”

Senior Elle Tinkle, limited by a knee injury to 10 games last season, and sophomore Jill Barta were named to the 10-player preseason All-WCC team. Tinkle was first-team All-WCC in 2015. Barta averaged 14 points and 5.8 rebounds while earning All-WCC honors as a freshman.

Other preseason All-WCC selections: Santa Clara’s Marie Bertholdt and Lori Parkinson, BYU’s Kalani Purcell and Makenzi Pulsipher, San Francisco’s Rachel Howard, Pacific’s Desire Finnie, San Diego’s Maya Hood and Saint Mary’s Stella Beck.

Asked what game she circled on the schedule, Kudron picked a road test against Stanford on Nov. 18. “We haven’t gotten them since I’ve been here,” she said. “We’ve been close. It’s just a big game.”

Asked the same question, Fortier said, “All of them. I don’t care who they are, everyone is a huge one for us.”

Gonzaga has an exhibition game versus Corban on Friday, followed by the regular-season opener against visiting Nicholls State on Nov. 12.

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