The program would have been the same – trophy, senior speeches and net cutting – but it wouldn’t have been the same without the win.
Gonzaga finished strongly, with superior play by its superstars and clutch baskets from Janelle Bekkering, to cap its unprecedented fifth consecutive West Coast Conference women’s basketball championship with a 77-67 win over San Diego Saturday afternoon before 2,914 fans at McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It gets tougher every year,” coach Kelly Graves said. “Game in and game out, we see everybody’s best game. We have a streak going now where people want to knock us off.”
The Bulldogs (24-6, 12-2), who clinched the title on Thursday, now wait for an opponent for next Sunday’s semifinals in the WCC tournament, which starts Thursday in Las Vegas.
Junior Heather Bowman scored 31 points and sophomore Courtney Vandersloot had 24 points to pace the Bulldogs. Bekkering had seven of her nine points in the final 5 minutes.
“New team, new season, definitely a new feeling,” Bowman said after matching the school record with the fourth 30-point game of her career. “Coach put it pretty well. It was a dogfight. We came out and did what we wanted to do, but they kept battling back.”
Bowman had 14 points in less than 5 minutes as the Bulldogs broke to an 11-point lead. The Toreros (16-12, 7-7) charged back, as the Bulldogs got careless with the ball, to grab their only lead (32-31) less than 2 minutes before halftime. That lasted for less than 25 seconds.
San Diego didn’t disappear with 6-foot-5 center Amber Sprague scoring 21 points, senior Kiva Herman getting 15 and freshman point guard Dominque Conners adding 16.
“They’re pretty good. They have weapons and they seem to play well against us,” Graves said. “Give them credit, but we made the plays down the stretch – especially Bekkering.”
In just more than 2 minutes, Bekkering scored on a putback, a jumper from the foul line and a 3-pointer with 2:14 to go that made it 72-61. On the next possession after a USD miss, Vandersloot hit from the same spot for the clincher.
“The two that stepped up for us are the two that you expect,” Graves said of Bowman, the reigning WCC Player of the Year, and Vandersloot, the favorite for the award this year. “They’re the two best players in the conference and it showed tonight.”
But when all was said and done, it was senior co-captains Amanda Brown and Jami Bjorklund Schaefer finishing the job – of cutting down the nets.
“Having it be my last year and wanting to finish it off well makes it special,” said Schaefer, who started most of the games in her four years. “And the players, this is a great team to be part of.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s sad because I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and it’s almost over. But my body needs the rest. It’s going to be tough, but it’s not over yet.”
Gonzaga has gone 63-7 during its championship run, 49-7 during Schaefer’s career.
“What makes it special is Jami,” Graves said. “Jami has won four regular-season championships. She really epitomizes GU. She is what our program is about, what our university is about. I’m really happy for her. Amanda (a walk-on as a sophomore), too, but Jami is that bridge between our old team and kind of the new program, where we’re at. She’s been a great leader. I’ve never had a leader better than her.”
The Bulldogs will face eighth-seeded Santa Clara, No. 5 Saint Mary’s or No. 4 Loyola Marymount in next Sunday’s noon semifinal.
Gonzaga 77, San Diego 67
San Diego (16-12, 7-7)- Henderson 3-11 0-0 8, Child 1-8 0-0 2, Herman 7-15 1-2 15, Sprague 9-15 2-4 21, Conners 7-14 0-2 16, Woodrow 0-1 0-0 0, Winther 1-1 0-0 2, Hatch 0-1 0-0 0, Mason 0-0 0-0 0, Mangrum 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 29-68 4-10 67.
Gonzaga (24-6, 12-2)- Frieson 2-8 1-2 5, Bowman 13-19 5-7 31, Bekkering 4-8 0-0 9, Vandersloot 9-16 4-5 24, Schaefer 2-6 0-0 5, Lorenzo 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Standish 0-2 2-2 2, Raap 0-3 0-2 0, Bowen 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 30-64 13-20 77.
Halftime—Gonzaga 36, San Diego 34. 3-Point Goals—San Diego 5-12 (Henderson 2-6, Conners 2-2, Sprague 1-2, Child 0-2), Gonzaga 4-11 (Vandersloot 2-4, Bekkering 1-3, Standish 0-2, Bowen 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—San Diego 36 (Sprague 7, Child 7), Gonzaga 42 (Bowman 7, Bekkering 7). Assists—San Diego 8 (Sprague 2, Child 2), Gonzaga 14 (Frieson 7). Total Fouls—San Diego 18, Gonzaga 10. A—2,914.
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