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Jill Barta, Gonzaga’s leading scorer and West Coast Conference MVP, to forgo final season of eligibility

UPDATED: Thu., March 22, 2018, 11:36 p.m.

Gonzaga basketball star Jill Barta, who led the Zags to NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons, is moving on. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga basketball star Jill Barta, who led the Zags to NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons, is moving on. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga basketball star Jill Barta, who led the Zags to NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons, is moving on.

“I’m going to be done at Gonzaga and not take my fifth year,” she told the Great Falls Tribune on Thursday. “I’m looking forward to coming back to Montana.”

Barta’s plans are not clear. She may move into teaching or pursue a professional basketball career.

Barta, a native of Fairfield, Montana, averaged a team-high 18.8 points and 8.3 rebounds for Gonzaga, which won the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles this year.

The 6-foot-3 Barta just completed her redshirt junior season. She had one more season of eligibility remaining.

The Zags’ season ended Saturday with an 82-68 loss at Stanford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Barta did not reply to numerous telephone calls and texts Thursday.

Reached Thursday night, coach Lisa Fortier said she was disappointed.

“We recruited her to play for us for four years, so we really would have liked to see her stick around for another year,” Fortier said.

“It’s a bummer, but our only choice is to move on,” added Fortier from California, where she is on a recruiting trip.

Fortunately, GU has solid depth returning in the frontcourt. Forward Zykera Rice will be a senior next year, while 6-3 twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth had significant playing time this year.

While the news was a surprise to fans, Barta apparently decided in January that this would be her last season at GU. Barta had hinted of an early departure during an interview in January with MontanaSports.com.

The video was withheld until Thursday, but MontanaSports.com referenced the video last week while previewing Gonzaga’s NCAA game at Stanford.

In the video, Barta said she was looking forward to working as a special education teacher.

“I’m excited to finish up school, finish up basketball and possibly start teaching next year,” Barta said.

Barta is on track to graduate this spring with a degree in special education and early childhood development.

Barta is eligible and is expected to declare for this year’s WNBA Draft. The WNBA has a league provision that allows players to submit their names for consideration in a given draft if the player’s 22nd birthday occurs within the calendar year of the same season.

A player must make such a declaration at least 10 days prior to the draft, which takes place on April 12 at Nike New York Headquarters in New York City.

Barta is the third Zag in program history to be named first-team All-West Coast Conference her first three seasons.