Much of the pregame talk focused on how Gonzaga’s inside players, Shelby Cheslek and Sunny Greinacher, planned to defend Brigham Young’s 6-foot-7 center, Jennifer Hamson.
As it turned out, BYU could have used a plan on how to defend Cheslek and Greinacher.
Greinacher (17 points) and Cheslek (16) scored career highs Thursday night to power the Bulldogs (14-5, 4-1) into first place in the West Coast Conference after a 74-59 basketball win over BYU at sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center.
GU entered the night in third place, behind BYU (12-5, 3-1), which had won nine consecutive games, and Saint Mary’s (11-5, 3-1), which dropped a 73-70 home game to San Diego.
Gonzaga jumped ahead 10-0, built its lead to 27 points with 15:53 left, and withstood a 17-0 Cougars second-half run.
Greinacher and Cheslek shot a combined 15 for 22 from the floor and helped to hold Hamson, who had averaged 13 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, to two points on 1-for-4 field-goal shooting and one rebound.
“The focus was on defense, for sure, so that it worked out like that, that both of us scored that high, was really good,” said Greinacher, a 6-4 sophomore whose previous high had been 16 points, twice this season. “We needed it.”
“It felt great because I’ve really been working on my offensive game and I think tonight it finally showed,” said Cheslek, a 6-5 redshirt freshman from Pullman whose high had been 10 points against Idaho.
Cheslek added five assists and game highs of eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Senior guard Taelor Karr had 15 points and a game-best seven assists, and junior guard Haiden Palmer was the fourth GU player in double figures with 11 points.
“Obviously, BYU’s going to be one of the teams we’re going to have to contend with if we expect to win another conference championship,” said coach Kelly Graves, whose Bulldogs have won the last eight WCC titles. “I thought (the Cougars) were playing the best of any team coming into this game.”
The Bulldogs hit their first five field-goal attempts, two by Greinacher, and held BYU scoreless for the first 5:14. The first-half lead grew steadily and peaked at 18 points (37-19) on Keani Albanez’s 3-pointer 1:27 before intermission.
“The way we started tonight I thought was terrific,” Graves said. “Our kids came out intense and you could really tell that this was a group that wanted it.”
The lead grew to 50-23 on Greinacher’s jumper with 15:53 left before BYU caught fire. Haley Steed ignited the 17-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers, and another Steed 3-pointer with 8:13 left cut GU’s lead to single digits, 55-46.
Reserve senior guard Meghan Winters boosted the edge back to double digits for good with a 3-pointer, and Cheslek assisted on a Greinacher layup for a 60-46 lead with 6:29 left.
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