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Gonzaga women lead the pack again in WCC heading into game at Portland

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 10, 2018, 4:23 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Zykera Rice is the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer, at slightly more than 13 points per game. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Zykera Rice is the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer, at slightly more than 13 points per game. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

After only four games, the chase is on in the West Coast Conference women’s basketball race.

Once again, Gonzaga is playing the role of the hunted, and coach Lisa Fortier wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s good, I’d prefer it to any other position,” said Fortier, whose team is 11-4 overall and 4-0 in the WCC going into Thursday’s game at last-place Portland (3-11, 0-4).

“I think our team has done a lot of good things in the last weeks,” Fortier said Tuesday after practice.

“We’ve been getting to our players in high-percentage position,” added Fortier, who was talking about on-court situations.

Fortier and her staff also have succeeded in putting her young players in the right mental state to succeed in those situations.

Freshmen Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth and Jill Townsend are already making a major impact. Backup point guard Jessie Loera got additional playing time last month while Laura Stockton was injured.

“It’s been hard at first, but our veterans have been really good about helping is out, and now we’re starting to mesh really well,” LeeAnne Wirth said.

Statistics bear that out. GU is scoring 73 points per game and giving up just 61.4, both ranking second in the WCC.

The Bulldogs also are a plus-seven on the glass and are shooting 43.6 percent from the field. Three-point shooting continued to be the weak link: GU is 340th (out of 349 schools) at 24 percent.

Thursday’s game should offer more chances for the newcomers. GU hasn’t lost at Portland since 2002 and has beaten the Pilots 17 straight dating back to 2010.

Portland has dropped 10 its last 11 with a young team that includes seven newcomers. Six of those are true freshmen.

Julie Spencer leads the Pilots with 13.7 scoring average.

Saturday’s home game against San Francisco (7-8, 2-2) should be a better test. The Dons have won two of three and are coming off a one-point home win over Pepperdine.

“We definitely have a lot of confidence going into the rest of the conference – we expect every team’s best,” point guard Stockton said.