Change in West Coast Conference scheduling makes travel plans easier for Gonzaga women’s basketball

Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier talks with players during a timeout at the West Coast Conference Basketball Championships final game. Tues., March 6, 2018, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Basketball season will always be a grind, but life will get a bit easier this season for the Gonzaga women.

After a two-year hiatus, the West Coast Conference is going back to the travel partner system, meaning there will be no more weeks with a single home and away game.

“It’s going to be great to have more of a routine,” said GU coach Lisa Fortier, whose Bulldogs had just two Thursday-Saturday homestands last year in WCC play. This year they’ll have four.

The two-time defending regular-season and tournament champs will open conference action on the road on Dec. 29 at Loyola Marymount and on New Year’s Eve at Pepperdine.

Gonzaga’s first conference home game is Jan. 3 against Saint Mary’s, the only WCC team to defeat the Zags last year, as they reached the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time in 10 years.

The conference has added a big reward this year for the top two regular-season finishers: a double-bye into the WCC tournament semifinals. Fortier likes the idea.

“You never know where you’re going to finish, but I can attest it’s a lot of work to get through the conference and a much-deserved reward,” Fortier said.

The tournament will run March 7-12 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Bulldogs (27-6 overall last season) swept the regular-season and conference tournament championships last season and have won 13 of the last 14 regular-season WCC titles and seven of the last 10 tournament championships.

Fortier added that the nonconference schedule has been finalized and will be released soon. The Zags will play in the new eight-team Vancouver (B.C.) Showcase on Nov. 18-20, and will host Stanford on Dec. 2.

Fortier expects to open practice in late September. GU returns three starters: point guard Laura Stockton and forwards Zykera Rice and wing Chandler Smith.

Leading scorer and rebounder Jill Barta (18.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) left the program a year early and point guard Emma Stach (7.5 ppg, 36.4 percent from 3-point range) graduated.