What now for Gonzaga women’s basketball?
With the surprise departure of their top player, the Zags “have no choice but to move on,” coach Lisa Fortier said Thursday.
But the Zags do have choices. In fact, when she spoke those words, Fortier was on a recruiting trip in California, only five days after the season ended with a loss at Stanford in the NCAA Tournament.
There will be even more recruiting trips following the news that Jill Barta – the Zags’ leading scorer and rebounder this season – announced on Thursday that she would forgo her final year of eligibility.
“We may be looking at a transfer,” Fortier said.
What kind of transfer? Fortier didn’t say, but it will be hard to replace the athletic, 6-foot-3 Barta, whose 18.8-point scoring average and outside shooting ability made life rough for everyone else in the West Coast Conference.
Barta was the Zags’ top 3-point shooter in average (.381) and makes (40). Combined with the graduation of Emma Stach (39 makes and a .364 percentage), GU loses most of its outside firepower.
GU returns starting wing Chandler Smith and Katie Campbell but will need a newcomer or transfer to step up next year to match this year’s 27-6 record (17-1 in the WCC).
Also, point guards Laura Stockton and Jessie Loera should have better 3-point shooting next year.
The situation is better in the paint, where starting forward Zykera Rice (11.7 points, 5.2 rebounds) returns for her senior year.
Fortunately, Fortier and her staff invested heavy minutes in twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth, who made big strides on defense. Both should get even more playing time next year.
No single player will be able to replace the versatility of Barta, who also led GU in rebounding (8.3 per game), free-throw shooting (87.6 percent) and blocks (30).
Not surprisingly, she’s been named as an All-Regional nominee for the WBCA NCAA Division I All-America team. The honor was announced on Friday – the day after she announced her intention to leave GU.
Barta was not available for comment on Thursday or Friday.
Fortunately for GU, this has been a senior-heavy season in the WCC. Regular-season runner-up Saint Mary’s lost first-team all-conference guard Stella Beck. BYU also graduates league scoring champion Cassie Devrashrayee and San Diego will be without its two top performers in guards Aubrey Ward-El and Maya Hood.