Gonzaga women look to get out of gate quickly in NCAA Tournament opener against Stanford

Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier speaks to the media about the Zags upcoming game with Stanford, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga's Chandler Smith visits with the media during a press conference before practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer talks with the media, Friday, March 16, 2018, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, players Kaylee Johnson and Brittany McPhee speak to media at a press conference, Friday, March 16, 2018, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Twins Jenn Wirth, left, and her sister LeeAnne during play Hangman with the team before practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. The Zags play the Stanford on Saturday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
In the locker room at Maples Pavilion, Gonzaga forward Jenn Wirth helps secure teammate Katie Campbell's hair before practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Gonzaga women's basketball team stretch in the hallway of Maples Pavilion before practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Jill Barta shoots the ball during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier passes the ball to Gonzaga forward Jill Barta during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier passes the ball to players during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Lisa Stockton (11) runs a play during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier passes the ball to players during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga assistant coach Craig Fortier pressures forward Jill Barta as she tries to shoot during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Jenn Wirth takes a shot during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Gonzaga women's basketball team circles up during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. The Zags play Stanford on Saturday afternoon. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Zags shoot the ball during practice at Stanford University, Fri., March 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

STANFORD, Calif. – The Gonzaga women got a few mixed messages this week.

They heard about how well they’ve played to win 27 games this season – but not well enough to earn better than a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

They were told how impressed folks are with GU’s big nonconference win here 16 months ago – against a distracted Stanford team that was coming off a big win over Texas.

Another message, unspoken but implied during Friday’s press conference:

The Big Dance is more like a mosh pit when your partner in the paint isn’t Santa Clara or Pepperdine.

That’s a lot to absorb going into Gonzaga’s first-round NCAA game Saturday afternoon against host Stanford.

Fortunately for wing Chandler Smith and her teammates, they received some timely, distilled advice from GU legend Heather Bowman during a recent practice in the Bay Area.

“She told us that she never regretted missing a shot, but did regret when she played timidly or not going 100 percent all of the time,” Smith said.

“The idea is really having fun, playing your best, but not putting too much pressure on yourself.”

If that sounds like another mixed message, guard Laura Stockton has one that’s perfect for the moment.

“We just have to be ourselves,” Stockton said before the Zags took the floor for Friday’s practice.

On Saturday, against a balanced Stanford, that means getting off to a solid start, or at least better than the 13-point hole they found themselves in after one quarter against Oklahoma in last year’s NCAA opener.

Assuming they do that, the Zags need to feed the ball to West Coast Conference Most Valuable Player Jill Barta, whose strong post play and outside shooting will be a load Stanford.

The 6-foot-3 Barta averages almost 19 points and 8 1/2 rebounds. She punishes overaggressive defenses by hitting 87 percent of her foul shots.

Barta was the Zags’ main offensive weapon in their 68-63 regular-season win at Stanford in 2016.

“We just have to be as ready as we were that year,” Barta said before practice Friday at Maples Pavilion.

Fourth-seeded Stanford (22-10) will be ready, too. Waiting in the paint will be 6-3 forward Kaylee Johnson.

Asked about Barta, Johnson said, “We have seen players like that and it was almost like good practice playing against players with a good outside shot, good post moves inside.

“We know it’s going to be a challenge but looking forward to stepping up to it.”

If you’re counting, Johnson spoke in first-person plural, so expect Barta to face frequent double teams wherever she goes.

A key to the game may be Barta’s patience in the paint, finding the shooters.

Guards Emma Stach, Stockton and Smith have heated up lately, shooting 38 percent from long range in their last four games.

“It’s a confidence booster, especially when we started in the beginning (of the season),” Stach said. “But I think just like making the right reads during the game and just like looking for open teammates, so I think that’s just like playing together.”

If Stanford has a weakness, it’s turnovers. For the season, the Cardinal have committed 463; their opponents only 424.

Also, Stanford is a mediocre free-throw-shooting team, hitting 63.9 percent.