LAS VEGAS – What a difference two months, not to mention 366 days, made for Jill Barta.
Gonzaga’s 6-foot-3 sophomore forward showed off her versatility from the low block to beyond the 3-point arc, pouring in 23 points in a 91-59 rout over Pacific in the WCC tournament quarterfinals Friday at Orleans Arena.
“She’s a tough guard because she can play inside and outside, and she has the size that makes her problematic from both spots,” Pacific coach Bradley Davis said. “She’s coming into her own at the right time. The first time we saw Gonzaga she was struggling a little bit but she’s got it rolling.”
In the Zags’ Dec. 31 contest against Pacific, Barta scored 15 points but made just 5 of 16 shots in the Tigers’ 65-63 win. In the Zags’ first and only game of the 2016 WCC women’s tournament, Barta didn’t have a field goal until 5 minutes remained in an eventual 59-58 loss to Santa Clara.
Barta dropped 20 points in the second and third quarters when the Zags outscored Pacific 48-23.
“This year’s a better feeling, for sure,” Barta said. “Playing here for the first time last year, as a freshman it’s always hectic. You have to come in here and act like you know what you’re doing, get used to the floor and get that shot feeling good.”
The first-team All-WCC selection zipped past good to red hot, making 9 of 11 field-goal attempts. But first, it took a reminder from coach Lisa Fortier after the first quarter to exploit the team’s size advantage.
“We were being fronted on one side and then being played behind on the other side,” Fortier said. “We have to read, if they’re fronting we have an option for that, and if they’re playing behind we have an option for that.”
Barta is always a good option. She made a steal near midcourt and glided in for a layup. She scored a handful of baskets in the paint, hit an elbow jumper, drained a soft-touch 8-footer and drove inside to earn a trip to the free-throw line.
Barta stepped outside and swished a 3-pointer, her 35th of the season.
“She’s just a natural scorer and kind of a headache for the defense as well to try and figure out how to match up against her,” Gonzaga forward Elle Tinkle said. “That’s what she does. That’s a part of her identity, for sure.”
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