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Gonzaga women hoping wishes come true … and fast

Like everyone else, Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier has a Christmas wish list. If it comes true, her players will be healthy, make their shots and take better care of the ball.

And one more thing: Could those wishes come a few days early, say on Dec. 21? That’s when the Bulldogs open defense of their West Coast Conference title at Pepperdine.

All things point to a tougher conference race for GU, which has won 11 straight regular-season titles but figures to get every team’s best effort all the way through the WCC tournament.

“There’s always going to be a target on our chest,” guard Emma Stach said.

For added motivation, the Bulldogs can look back at their recent loss at Washington State, which in turn lost to St. Mary’s last week. “It just goes to show that our conference isn’t something to look past,” center Shelby Cheslek said during practice Tuesday.

For now, the Bulldogs (8-4) aren’t looking past themselves. After losing three out of five, they righted the ship last weekend with wins at Dayton and Colgate.

Thanks to strong rebounding and perimeter defense, they’ve fashioned an 8-4 record, with all four losses coming against teams from power conferences (Stanford, USC, North Carolina and WSU).

“We made some progress and worked on fixing our errors,” Stach said.

For Fortier, the biggest one is ball security. The Bulldogs are averaging 17.3 turnovers and have a 0.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“We’re making some silly choices,” Fortier said. “The things we can control are not being controlled well.”

Fortier has no control over injuries. The latest is Elle Tinkle’s tender knee, which kept her out of Sunday’s game at Colgate. Her status is uncertain for next week’s road trip.

Likewise, guard Shaniqua Nilles is still out, and post Emma Wolfram is working her back after offseason shoulder surgery.

Fortier’s final wish may already be coming true: at Dayton and Colgate the Bulldogs shot 44.7 percent (55 for 123) from the field and 43.4 percent (16 for 37) from long range.

“I like how we’ve been shooting the ball. Hopefully that will continue,” Fortier said. “We’ve been working to get great shots.”

The Bulldogs’ next home game is on Dec. 31 against San Francisco.

Cougars lean on Hristova

The stats don’t lie: Washington State has a go-to player in forward Borislava Hristova.

The freshman from Bulgaria is averaging 19.4 points – nearly three times more than runner-up Dawnyella Awa (6.8 ppg) – while shooting 52 percent from the field.

How that will translate in Pac-12 play, coach June Daugherty couldn’t say, as the Cougars finish their nonconference schedule on Saturday at Kansas before hosting rival Washington on Dec. 29.

The Cougars are 8-2 but coming off a 75-71 loss Saturday at St. Mary’s. “I felt like in that game we struggled in certain areas offensively, and we allowed that to affect our energy on the defensive end,” Daugherty said.

“We have a long ways to go,” Daugherty said before Tuesday’s practice.

McConnell on fire for Pirates

Last week, guard K.C. McConnell became the first Whitworth player in at least 20 years to reach 30 points in back-to-back contests.

The senior from Clarkston made 13 of 23 field goals for a career-high 35 points in a 71-61 loss to Cal Lutheran on Saturday. A day later she added 30 points in a 66-53 win over Southwestern (Texas).

McConnell earned the NWC Women’s Basketball Student-Athlete of the Week award for the fifth time in her career. She was a three-time honoree last season.

Whitworth (4-3 overall and 2-0 in the Northwest Conference) returns to action on Satursday at UC Santa Cruz.

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