LAS VEGAS – Get through the quarterfinals. Check.
Now Gonzaga has just one more game to cross off the list before getting to the West Coast Conference final.
The top-seeded Zags will have a chance to battle returning champion San Francisco in a WCC semifinal at the Orleans Arena on Monday at noon. A win would take the Zags to the conference finale against the winner of the BYU-Saint Mary’s game, a feat that was achieved for seven straight years before they fell to BYU in the 2015 semifinals.
But getting back on that run won’t be an easy task.
“They’re so multidimensional,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said of USF on Friday. “They can shoot the ball, they can get to the basket.”
Much of USF’s success has fallen along the perimeter, with guard Rachel Howard leading the way. Howard, who has the second-high scoring average in the WCC, is shooting a team-best 50 percent (18 of 36) from the perimeter.
Fourth-seeded USF advanced to the semifinals after defeating Loyola Marymount 80-67 in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Four of the starting Dons scored at least 16 points against the Lions.
The last time Gonzaga faced the Dons was on USF’s home court on Feb. 16. The Zags couldn’t rally in the fourth quarter and lost by five points, ending a 12-game winning streak.
It was certainly not an offensive loss. In that matchup, the Zags toppled USF in the paint 40-10 and hit 11 3-pointers, an area in which the Zags had struggled earlier in the season.
Fortier blamed much of her team’s loss that night on a weak defensive end.
“We didn’t play very good defense at all in that game, and you can’t, you just can’t play offense and not defense,” Fortier said. “You have to be able to work together. … To win things that matter, you have to play both sides of the ball.”
It definitely matters now. The Zags are counting on getting into the NCAA Tournament with the automatic bid given to the conference tournament champions. Fortier doesn’t expect that the WCC will receive any at-large bids, so winning the next two games is a must.
Of course, that means getting to the finale. To get there, not only will Gonzaga’s offense need to be as consistent as it was last time GU met the Dons, but the Zags will also have to level out the field and put up a strong defensive end this time around to slow down USF’s top shooters.
“They’re, I think, led pretty strongly by their three guards,” Fortier said.
USF’s Anna Seilund and Kalyn Simon consistently join Howard on the stat sheet. They especially stood out against LMU on Thursday, putting up 19 points apiece.
The top-seeded Zags are coming off a 91-59 win over No. 9 Pacific on Friday. Sophomore forward Jill Barta’s 23 points set a Gonzaga tournament record, hitting 82 percent (9 of 11) of her shots from the field.
The 91 points scored against Pacific was the second-highest total the Zags have scored in tournament history.
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