Coach Lisa Fortier and her Gonzaga women’s basketball team checked quite a few boxes this year. Still …
“I’m like everybody else – I want more,” Fortier said while reflecting on the Zags’ season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the first round of NCAA Tournament.
“I’m still trying to get my mind around the fact that we had a really good season,” Fortier said.
The highlights included a win over Stanford, a West Coast Conference regular-season title and a dominant run through the WCC tournament in Las Vegas.
Even the lowest point – back-to-back losses to lowly Pepperdine and Pacific to open the WCC season – were turned into a positive by Fortier and her assistants, Jordan Green, Stacy Clinesmith and Craig Fortier.
“We worked through some internal things that were going on,” Fortier said, without going into details. “I thought we put the players in a positive situation and our players bought in.”
The payoff was a 12-game winning streak that set the tone for the rest of the season, a 26-7 campaign that also saw Fortier named WCC Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
Along the way, the Zags showed their grit by going 6-2 in games decided by five points or fewer.
However, one season always segues into the next.
This week, Fortier is working on recruiting, preparing for national committee obligations and helping her departing players chase their professional dreams.
They include forward Kiara Kudron, wing Elle Tinkle and guard Makenlee Williams. That’s two glue-guy starters and a 3-point shooting whiz. Replacing them won’t be a one-for-one tradeoff, and it rarely is.
The Zags will go forward with three returning starters in forward Jill Barta and guards Laura Stockton and Emma Stach; plus four others who played at least nine minutes per game.
The biggest priority is replacing the rebounding strength of Kudron and Tinkle, who combined for 13 rebounds per game.
Barta, the WCC tournament MVP, scored a team-leading 16.8 points, but will need to add a couple of boards to her average of 6.0.
“She’s shown that she’s capable,” said Fortier, who also hopes to coax more boards from forward Zykera Rice, post Emma Wolfram and wing Chandler Smith.
“Everybody needs to do a little bit more,” Fortier said.
Much will be expected next year from Smith, a Brewster, Wash., product who transferred two years ago from Nebraska. The heir-apparent to Tinkle, the 6-foot Smith has a strong outside shot (37.8 percent from 3 in WCC play) and length on defense.
At 6-foot-5, Wolfram is a true post, which will change the game at both ends of the court. With Wolfram and Barta inside, Fortier expects to get some favorable matchups against most teams.
“Chandler isn’t Elle and Emma isn’t Kiara,” Fortier said. “Both do some things differently, and do some things better.”
Things are more settled in the backcourt. Stockton assumed the reins at the point and averaged 27 minutes, 8.0 points and had a 2.0 assists-to-turnovers ratio while running an up-tempo offense.
Even as a true sophomore, Stockton also showed leadership on and off the court.
“I think Laura has a bit of that innately,” Fortier said.
Backup point guard Jessie Loera, of Moses Lake, played in 30 games and shot 32.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Stach goes into her senior year as a two-year starter at off-guard. She’s one of the Zags’ best defenders and has the best 3-point shooting average (37.6 percent) of any returnee, but Fortier hopes to see an increase in her scoring average of 5.8 ppg.
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