GU women take early stage with chance to rest

Haiden Palmer and her Gonzaga teammates played extra minutes Saturday against Saint Mary’s with a day off looming before WCC title game. (Christopher Anderson)

Automatic bid at stake

LAS VEGAS – The new format for the West Coast Conference basketball tournaments influenced Gonzaga women’s coach Kelly Graves’ allotment of playing time in Saturday’s semifinals.

The Bulldogs were locked in a close contest with Saint Mary’s. Graves kept his key players on the court longer, knowing if his team won it would have an additional day to prepare for Monday’s championship game because WCC newcomer BYU doesn’t play on Sundays.

“It changes your strategy as a coach,” Graves said. “We wouldn’t have normally played them this many minutes. We would have tried to run them in and out, get them at least two rests in the second half instead of one.”

Instead, five Bulldogs logged at least 30 minutes with Taelor Karr, Katelan Redmon and Kayla Standish playing 36 minutes. During the regular season, Standish averaged a team-high 28.6 minutes.

The top-seeded and 22nd-ranked Bulldogs (26-4) and second-seeded BYU (25-6) will tangle for the third time in less than a month. The Cougars won Round 1, 70-40, in Provo. Gonzaga took the rematch 77-60, clinching the regular-season crown.

“They’re very physical, big insides, very strong,” said Bulldogs senior forward Katelan Redmon, who scored 28 points in the second meeting. “We’re really going to have to rebound hard and push the tempo.”

BYU coach Jeff Judkins rattled off the teams’ stats, noting the similarities.

“Both teams are built the same way, an inside presence with outside shooting and ball control,” he said. “We outplayed Gonzaga’s bigs in Provo and Gonzaga outplayed ours in Spokane. It’s going to come down to who wants it the most and who can defend the best. I’m going to do some things differently and I’m sure Kelly will, too. It’ll be a good chess match.”

BYU senior Kristin Riley (11.6 points, 8 rebounds) was voted WCC player of the year. Lexi Eaton (10.7 points) was chosen co-newcomer of the year. The Cougars have a balanced attack and rank second in the conference in scoring offense and scoring defense.

“Last time we played them we weren’t ready to play,” said Eaton, who had 26 points in a semifinal win over San Diego. “We are ready for them now.”

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