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Deep bench has paid off for Gonzaga women

UPDATED: Fri., March 17, 2017, 9:16 p.m.

Jill Barta and Chandler Smith (foreground) are leading Gonzaga in scoring this season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Jill Barta and Chandler Smith (foreground) are leading Gonzaga in scoring this season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

SEATTLE – Gonzaga is the lower seed in Saturday’s first-round game against Oklahoma, but the Bulldogs won’t be out of their depth.

That’s because GU may be one of the deepest teams in the tournament, with 11 players seeing double-digit minutes this year.

That may have seemed like a liability at the beginning of January, when none of the guards could distance herself from the competition – in practice or in games.

But after a 0-2 start to the West Coast Conference season, the Bulldogs found their rhythm even as coach Lisa Fortier constantly subbed.

Now GU is playing its best basketball of the season, and no one – not even WCC tournament MVP Jill Barta – has averaged more than 27 minutes on the floor.

In the backcourt, starters Laura Stockton and Emma Stach are averaging 27 and 21 minutes respectively, but backups Chandler Smitha and Makenlee Williams are right behind at 17 and 14.

Will that pay off in March?

“Well, hopefully,” Fortier said. “But we have a bunch of players who can do things.”

With that, Fortier hearkened back to her days as an assistant under Kelly Graves. In 2010, the Bulldogs were playing Texas A&M in a second-round NCAA game in the very gym where they’ll face the Sooners on Saturday.

Late in the game, All-American guard Courtney Vandersloot – the most decorated player in school history – had fouled out after scoring just nine points.

However, the other Zags rose to the occasion on the way to a 72-71 win.

The moment is memorialized on a mural in GU’s locker room at the Kennel. Vandersloot is celebrating the moment on the bench.

“We were talking about that recently,” Fortier said. “I just reminded them that … anyone can step up and make the impact that you need.

“Hopefully, that means that we have a bunch of confident players and when called upon they’re going to be able to rise to the occasion.”