Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves said it’s too early to read much in the league standings, but he prefers having every conference game turn into a grudge match.
Coming off of the 79-78 overtime loss to Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference opener, Gonzaga (12-3, 2-1) responded with an 83-68 win over Pacific and then a 56-24 thrashing last Friday of Portland.
Next up for the Bulldogs is a Thursday home game against BYU (13-2, 3-1), which beat Saint Mary’s in overtime and then lost to Pacific. Gonzaga must turn around and then play Saturday against No. 24 San Diego (15-0, 4-0), which at 15-0 has entered the national rankings for the first time in school history.
“There is no question, it’s going to be a dog fight the whole way through,” Graves said of the conference schedule. “The two teams coming in are a combined 28-2. We will have to be able to bring it every night to compete in this conference. I love it.”
Graves said Gonzaga obviously set a “high bar” for the league. But the inclusion of BYU has really helped elevate the league even further.
“Even the teams that have traditionally been at the bottom are better,” he said. “Thirty-point blowouts aren’t fun. For a long time we’ve been hoping for a conference like this.”
Senior guard Haiden Palmer said she relishes the competition.
“We know they are a great team,” she said of BYU, “and we will have to play great to get a win. They have a lot of shooters. We are really going to focus on how we are going to lock them down.”
Junior forward Sunny Greinacher said the competition level in the league gives the players all the motivation they need.
“In the last few years, everybody wanted to beat Gonzaga,” she said. “Now there is a lot of competition. I really like it. It makes you want to practice harder and play harder.”
The Cougars are led by senior 6-7 center Jennifer Hamson, who is averaging 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a game.
At the end of the Saint Mary’s game, Gonzaga was down a point with .3 seconds left after Jackie Nared nailed a 3-pointer to put the Gaels up 72-71.
Graves called timeout and called a play that he teaches in his clinics. It’s called “Home Run.” Graves said he told junior forward Lindsay Sherbert to set a screen if the Gaels put a defender on the Gonzaga player who was trying to inbound the ball.
“It gives you two scoring opportunities,” Graves said.
Many times, opponents put a tall player to challenge the in-bound pass. Graves instructs his players to first show the ball as a fake. If the defender swats at the ball, it’s a technical and GU gets free throws.
If not, he has the inbound player run down the baseline. The next player, in this case Sherbert, runs up and sets a screen just as the inbound player runs toward the screen. It worked. The Saint Mary’s player ran Lindsay over and received a charging foul.
“All we can do as coaches is give the kids a chance to win,” Grave said. “We did.”
Sherbert swished the first shot to tie the game. Her second shot dribbled off the rim and Gonzaga eventually lost in overtime.
“I hope she’s disappointed,” Graves said of Sherbert. “It was a chance to win the game.”
He then added: “That wasn’t what lost the game. We had plenty of chances. But the difference in winning and losing is right there. That’s what makes the game great.”
University of Idaho’s Stacey Barr scored her eighth double-double of year in the Western Athletic Conference win last Saturday against Chicago State.
The 5-8 junior guard is pacing the Vandals (9-7, 2-0) with 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. She was named the WAC player of the week for the third time this year following the 92-42 trouncing of Chicago State in which Barr scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
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