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Gonzaga women, riding 14-game winning streak, continue to pick up steam

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 7, 2018, 9:25 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Jill Barta is shooting 65 percent from the field in her last five games. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Jill Barta is shooting 65 percent from the field in her last five games. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The Gonzaga women are trending.

The Bulldogs have won 14 consecutive games, are running laps around the West Coast Conference and checked in Wednesday at a season-best 42nd in RPI.

The only downside: a lack of bulletin-board material, but the Zags found motivation from one lost vote in this week’s national poll.

“We do have a little chip on our shoulder,” forward Zykera Rice said after practice on Wednesday ahead of Thursday night’s WCC home game against Pacific.

“People just underestimate the conference we play in.”

But if Bulldogs head coach Lisa Fortier has anything to do with it, her players won’t make that mistake.

“You have to stay the course,” said Fortier, whose club is 19-4 overall and 12-0 in the WCC. “If you let it get to your head, that’s when you get bit in the butt.”

That’s exactly what happened the last time GU hosted Pacific. WCC preseason favorites in 2016-17, the Bulldogs fell to UOP on New Year’s Eve. But they’ve taken the last three in the series, including a 99-72 win in Stockton, California, on Dec. 28.

For that game, Pacific (12-11, 6-6) was without GeAnna Luaula-Summers, one of the top players in the WCC. She averages 17.2 points and 4.6 rebounds for a squad that leads the WCC in scoring offense at 77.5 points a game.

“I’m sure she’s going to come out ready to play,” GU point guard Laura Stockton said.

Three more Tigers score in double figures, with Ameela Li at 12.8 per game, Desire Finnie at 11 and Brooklyn McDavid at 10.2.

Then again, the Bulldogs have made a habit of shutting down their opponents’ best players.

“We’re playing great team defense and making (opponents) play to their weaknesses,” Fortier said.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs host Saint Mary’s, which took them to the limit in a 73-65 win last month. Defense was the key in that game, too, as GU forced 22 turnovers.

That’s not all. In conference games, the Zags’ stat line is as impressive as their win streak. GU is outshooting WCC foes 46.3 percent to 35 percent, outrebounding them by almost six per game and giving up less than 11 turnovers per game while forcing 16.

GU continues to get big games from leading scorer Jill Barta, who was 9 for 10 from the field in a 34-point night at BYU.

In her last five games, Barta is shooting 40 for 61 (65 percent) from the field.

Fortier welcomes the rising RPI number, just in case her team falters in next month’s WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.

“It’s good for us,” Fortier said.