Laura Stockton has never been one to shy away from a dramatic ending.
She hit the winning 3-pointer that lifted Gonzaga Prep past Todd Beamer by two points in the 2015 State 4A tournament semifinal. Two years later, Stockton took control of a nail-biter against rival Saint Mary’s and hit a jumper in the final seconds to lock down a 59-58 victory.
On Thursday, she attempted another big finale and hit a long 3-pointer with 33 seconds left to seal a 58-54 win over the San Diego Toreros.
“It’s obviously really exciting. I love those opportunities to be able to finish games,” Stockton said.
Stockton’s opportunity came unexpectedly. She and the other guards were trying to set up a good look for junior forward Jill Barta, who led the team in points per game (18.7) and was second behind forward Zykera Rice in field-goal percentage (48.7) heading into Thursday.
“She’s got a knack for hitting those shots at any point in the game, especially at the end,” Stockton said. “We were looking for her and the defense knew that and let me in.”
For most of the night, the Toreros pushed a tough zone defense that roughed up the Zags inside and forced Gonzaga to the perimeter. The Zags, who normally dominate the paint behind Barta and Rice, finished with just 16 points in the key.
Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier responded to San Diego’s heavy pressure inside with a change in the usual game plan that relies heavily on an inside presence. Instead, she looked to her guards, especially junior guard Stockton, to take the reins and adjust to the longer shots.
“We stayed the course against the zone. It’s hard, it’s really hard to stay patient against the zone. Teams try to get it out of our interior, people make our perimeters make plays,” Fortier said. “But we stayed the course.”
The Zags have struggled with accuracy from distance all season, especially from beyond the arc, and Thursday’s performance was no different. They were held to 31 percent from the field in the first half, making 10 of their 32 shots.
The Zags, who have been one of the worst teams in the country from 3-point range, were able to nail six 3-pointers on 22 attempts. Stockton and Loera led the Zags with a pair of 3s apiece.
Gonzaga bounced back after halftime and went 7 for 14 from the field in the third quarter, but the Toreros didn’t back off. They stayed close behind for the majority of the second half and jumped on Gonzaga’s late scoring drought to pull within a point. The Zags hit two shots at the line but couldn’t get a field goal to drop in the last 5 minutes until Stockton finally ended the drought with her winner.
San Diego nearly tied the Zags for the first time since the first half with an 11-2 run in the final minutes. The Toreros capped the run with Carolina Buhr’s three-point play and a pair free throws by Maya Hood.
San Diego jumped out on the Zags in the opening minutes and led for nearly the entire first quarter. Senior guard Emma Stach finally put the Zags on top with a layup off a steal by Loera.
The Toreros took a one-point lead in the beginning of the second quarter off of Alexandra Hagen’s jump shot, but Loera followed with a 3-pointer that initiated a 10-0 run and put the Zags on top for good.
Gonzaga finished the night shooting 36 percent from the field (21 of 59).
Stockton led three players in double figures with a game-high 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Barta scored 11 points and pulled down 12 boards for her team-leading 10th double-double of the season. Loera followed with 10 points for the Zags.
Forward Carolina Buhr led San Diego with 13 points and shot 50 percent from the field (6 of 12).
The Zags will host Brigham Young in their season finale on Saturday at 2 p.m. Gonzaga plans to honor seniors Stach and Emma Wolfram, who has been sidelined this season with a knee injury.
Coeur d’Alene native Sydney Williams returned to The Kennel for her last time in a San Diego jersey. The senior forward and former Coeur d’Alene High star finished with eight points for the Toreros.
Williams played in front of her mother and grandparents and finished with eight points for the Toreros, including a pair of 3-pointers. The Gonzaga crowd joined Williams’ family in welcoming her home with cheers when her name was announced in San Diego’s starting five.
“I’ll miss playing here and seeing my family and having people cheer me on in the crowds since I don’t get to really play in front of anyone I know down in San Diego,” Williams said. “It’s always good to see people and get cheered on here.”
Williams averaged 16.5 points and led Coeur d’Alene to a 2014 5A State championship during her senior year. She was named Idaho State Player of the Year that season and was also tabbed the Bicentennial Female Athlete of the Year.
Williams averaged in double figures in three seasons at Coeur d’Alene (10.3 as a sophomore and 13.4 as a junior) and she helped the Vikings to the state tournament in all four seasons of her high school career.
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