STANFORD, Calif. – For the Gonzaga women, this wasn’t about rising to the occasion.
This was about getting down and dirty in the mosh pit known as Maples Pavilion, about matching up with Stanford in the paint on the Cardinal’s home floor.
Ultimately they couldn’t, and Stanford pushed its way through the first round of the NCAA Tournament with an 82-68 win Saturday afternoon.
Gonzaga pushed back, but Stanford fell back on some old weapons and used some new ones to advance to a second-round game on Monday against Florida Gulf Coast.
The Cardinal used tough defense in the paint, a commanding performance on the boards and some unexpected hot shooting from outside to pull away from the Zags.
Ahead by four points after 10 minutes, Stanford had big runs in each of the middle quarters to take a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“Stanford was too tough for us to stop on the glass today,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said as her team ended the season at 27-6.
“Unfortunately, that was a big key for us, and I thought, at times, we did enough offensively and executed well enough, but they had too many second-chance points and too many rebounds.”
The final tally was 42 to 27 on the boards, with 17 offensive rebounds for the Cardinal. Not coincidentally, GU was outscored 38-20 in the paint.
The most telling halftime stat: no GU player had more than two rebounds.
It didn’t help that starting forward Zykera Rice picked up her second foul just three minutes into the game and played just seven minutes in the first half.
“I tried to keep my head in the game,” Rice said.
The Zags needed the rest of her. With Rice sidelined, leading scorer Jill Barta found the going tougher at both ends of the court.
Barta worked hard for every one of her game-high 21 points, as double-teams greeted her at the top of the key. That led to open looks for the GU guards, but they hit just five of 17 outside shots.
Stanford’s aggressive perimeter defense had something to do with that.
“One of the things in the film, when you watch Stanford play, they get a high hand every time,” Fortier said. “And so I think, I don’t know that we were tentative, I don’t think we had open threes, really.”
Stanford (23-10) had far too many at the other end. Coming into the game with a 31 percent average from beyond the arc, the Cardinal made six of 11 in the first half and 11 of 22 for the game.
In particular, guard Kiara Williams hurt the Zags by going 5-for-8 from long range, tying Barta for game-high scoring honors with 21 points.
Gonzaga got a big spark in the second quarter from backup point guard Jessie Loera, who scored 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting to keep GU in the game.
Trailing 47-36 at halftime, the Zags clawed back to within eight after two free throws from Barta.
Stanford answered emphatically with a decisive push late in the third that included three 3-pointers and an offensive foul on Barta after she drove into several Stanford defenders at the free-throw line.
“In that just stretch of time, I think it was just about trusting your teammates; trusting that your teammate is going to hit an open shot,” said Stanford forward Alanna Smith.
Laura Stockton had 14 points for GU, along with four assists. Barta’s four rebounds were a team high.
Guard Brittany McPhee, a third-team All-American, had just 11 points, but showed her versatility with a game-high 11 boards. She also drove the lane relentlessly, forcing GU to collapse and leave shooters open.
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