LAS VEGAS – Film sessions aren’t always about fixing mistakes.
Sometimes, they’re about looking at the little moments that get the Gonzaga Bulldogs fired up.
“We make sure in film sessions we show our celebrations,” coach Lisa Fortier said “We try to show everybody their go-to’s.”
Jill Barta’s go-to celebration is usually to point a finger. Zykera Rice often goes for the yells and hard high-fives. Emma Stach’s move is something similar to a ‘honk the horn’ gesture whenever she hits a 3-pointer.
“Emma’s is the one hand. She throws that one hand down and that’s her celebration,” Fortier said.
The Zags had plenty of celebrations to review after their 65-53 win over fifth-seeded San Francisco in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal on Monday at the Orleans Arena – Stach’s game-high four 3-pointers, Barta’s 3 that finally dropped in the fourth quarter, Jill Townsend’s three-point play near the end of the game and Chandler Smith’s steal and breakaway layup that tied the score at 20 are just a few.
But it wasn’t all as pretty as the Zags might have made it seem at times. The game got rough quickly, and the Dons put up a gritty defense that caught Gonzaga off-guard from the start.
“That was a really gritty game,” Fortier said. “That wasn’t a word that we used going into the game.”
The post on both ends of the court took most of the beating, as both teams struggled to penetrate the lane. Bodies were knocked to the ground in fights on the glass and struggles inside the paint.
Gonzaga forward Jenn Wirth got banged up the most when she grabbed an offensive board in the third quarter and held the ball up high. A San Francisco defender jumped up, grabbed the ball from Wirth and pulled her backward, slamming her backside to the floor.
Wirth left briefly and returned with a stiff back, but wasn’t seriously injured.
“It was really physical for the full 40 minutes,” Stach said. “They are a really high-energy team, never giving up.”
San Francisco’s tough zone defense caused the Zags problems almost immediately. The Dons’ bigs held their ground inside and forced the Zags to pull back and shoot from distance, which put a damper on Gonzaga’s offense in the first quarter.
Gonzaga failed to get on the board in the first 3 minutes before Smith finally broke up the scoreless run with a long jumper.
Fortunately for Gonzaga, the Dons weren’t able to do much better. They found just as much physicality in Gonzaga on the opposite end of the court and weren’t able to get a field goal in about the same amount of time as the Zags. San Francisco’s leading scorer Anna Seilund finally got a bucket from the perimeter about 10 seconds before Smith’s shot.
The Zags finished out the first quarter shooting just 23.5 percent from the field (4 of 17), with most of their scores coming from distance. The Dons nearly matched them at 23.1 percent (3 of 13).
Gonzaga’s bigs finally found some open paths to the rim in the second quarter and hit a couple of layups that put Gonzaga up 13-10. But the Zags still struggled to create pathways and were forced as far back as the 3-point line.
With just over a minute left in the half, Stach took the opportunity for a shot from 3-point range and drained it, giving the Zags a 26-24 lead.
Gonzaga finally made the right adjustments in the second half and got the shots to fall.
“Somewhere in that fourth quarter we found a groove, I’m not really sure how that happened,” Fortier said.
The Dons were just as perplexed as they watched Gonzaga’s 3-pointers start to fall. The Zags hit three consecutive 3-pointers, back-to-back shots from Stach and another by Barta, and Jessie Loera hit another one two minutes later to put Gonzaga up 63-45 in the final minutes of the game.
San Francisco’s defense inside weakened in the second half, allowing the Zags to break through for eight consecutive points at the rim.
Gonzaga finished with 32 points in the paint, while San Francisco scored 20. Barta led the Zags inside with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 10 boards, her 13th double-double this season. Stach followed with 14 points, shooting 5 for 10 from the field.
Stach defended Seilund for the majority of the game, with some help from Loera. The duo held Seilund, who averaged 15.3 points before Monday, to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.
San Francisco, which sank a WCC Tournament-record 14 3-pointers against Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals, was held to three makes in 17 attempts from 3-point range. Seilund had just one 3-pointer against the Zags after making six against the Lions.
Gonzaga outrebounded San Francisco 42-38. Rice joined Barta in double digits with 10 rebounds.
The Zags took charge of the 50-50 ball and recovered 17 offensive rebounds, which turned into 20 second-chance points.
Gonzaga forced 16 turnovers, but committed 17. But the Zags were able to capitalize on San Francisco’s mistakes, scoring 25 points off turnovers, while the Dons managed just 12 points.
The Zags will face sixth-seeded San Diego in the championship game Tuesday at 1 p.m.
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