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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mathews, Graves lead contingent of Bulldogs on the women’s team

The 24th-ranked Gonzaga women’s basketball team proved to be as dominating off the court as on.

The Bulldogs, who are riding a 21-game winning streak, picked up a bulk of the All-West Coast Conference awards announced Monday, headlined by Player of the Year Shannon Mathews and Coach of the Year Kelly Graves.

“It is a surprise,” said Mathews, a 5-foot-6 senior point guard who is GU’s all-time assists leader and first-ever player of the year. “It could have been a number of players… . Everybody is so important; everybody contributes in different ways. It’s just an honor.”

Senior forward Ashley Burke joined Mathews on the All-WCC team with senior guard Raeanna Jewell and junior forward Ann Bailey earning honorable mention. Burke, a 6-1 forward from North Vancouver, British Columbia, joins current GU assistant Jennifer Mountain (1989-91) and Ivy Safranski (‘94-95) as the school’s only three-time first-team selections. Mathews made it for the second time after earning honorable mention as a sophomore.

Gonzaga’s haul wasn’t a surprise for a team that cruised through the conference with a 14-0 record and will carry a 25-2 record into the league tournament that begins Thursday in Santa Clara. The Bulldogs will face eighth-seeded Portland, a team they crushed 81-35 Saturday night, about 2:15 p.m.

There was sentiment on the Gonzaga campus that Mathews and Burke could have shared the top honor.

“I think I would have made it co-Player of the Year with me and Ashley Burke,” Mathews said in the league’s conference call. “We both bring different things. She’s our inside presence and she’s our go-to player. We usually collaborate on a lot of things. I pass her the ball and she scores it or she sets a screen for me and I knock down a jump shot.”

Graves, who could not vote for his own players, concurred.

“Shannon deserves the award, she’s just a tremendous, tremendous player, just a great kid,” he said. “It could have gone to any number, but I really do think Shannon and Ashley Burke have been so instrumental in everything that we’ve done on the court, obviously, but off the court as well.

“They’re both very deserving, but one of our greatest strengths is we just have a number of different players who at different times have stepped up and played a leading role. There have been games when Shannon and Ashley, quite frankly, haven’t been very good but somebody else has really stepped in. Balance, I think, has been our key.”

Mathews, from Riverside, Calif., leads the league in assists (6.6, seventh in the nation) and is second on the team in scoring (11.7). Burke is GU’s top scorer (14.3), rebounder (5.9) and shooter (55 percent).

The only honors that did not come GU’s way went to San Francisco’s Toni Russell as Defender of the Year for the second-straight year, and freshman Dominique Carter as Newcomer of the Year.

The Bulldogs didn’t have any players selected for the All-Freshman team, which is a reflection of the depth of this year’s team.

Mathews, Burke and Jewell were on an 11-18 team as freshman but helped the program win 72 games in their careers.

Bailey, a 6-foot forward from Snohomish, is third in scoring (9.7) and rebounds (5.0). Jewell, a 5-7 guard from Central Valley, is fifth in scoring (8.8) and rebounds (4.6) and second in assists (60) and steals (34). This year she joined Burke as one of five Bulldogs with more than 1,000 points and 600 rebounds.

The award for Graves is his second, the first coming two seasons ago when the Bulldogs finished 18-12 for their first winning season in nine years and tied for second in the league (9-5) after his first two teams at GU went 0-14 and 2-12.