Gonzaga closed out the old year by clamping down on San Francisco.
While getting some good shots themselves, the Bulldogs held USF to 28 percent shooting in a 68-47 West Coast Conference win Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
At both ends of the floor, it was the kind of confidence-boosting win Lisa Fortier’s squad needed going into Saturday’s big game against Santa Clara and the other conference tests ahead.
“I like the way we shot the ball, and I really liked that we didn’t have any lulls – we were very consistent throughout the game,” said Fortier, whose team improved to 11-4 overall and 3-0 in the WCC.
Early in the game, with the Dons (9-5 overall, 0-3 WCC) clamped down on center Shelby Cheslek and the GU inside game, guards Emma Stach and Georgia Stirton took advantage in what turned out to be the Bulldogs’ best long-range shooting game of the year.
By the time it was over, GU was 10 for 19 from long range. That finally opened up the inside game, helping freshman forward Jill Barta score a career-high 21 points.
“It opens up everything when we’re hitting outside,” Barta said. “We played really well tonight.”
The strong guard play came despite the absence of regular starter Elle Tinkle, who according to Fortier is “day to day” with a knee injury.
Stach finished with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point range; Stirton scored 12 while going 5 for 7 from the field and hitting both of her shots from beyond the arc.
The GU guards took the initiative from the start. Stirton hit a buzzer-beating jumper to give the Bulldogs an early 10-2 advantage, and Chelsea Waters drained an open 3 from the side to push the lead to 18-7.
A 5-0 USF rally was cut short by an impressive play from Stirton, who dribbled past four Dons for a hotly-contested layin that maded it 25-13.
That was just one of several buzzer-beating shots in the frst half for GU. Stirton had another moment earlier when she faked a pass, then threw up an off-balance 16-footer that somehow found the mark.
“A couple of those came too late in the shot clock, but I like that we’re working for good shots,” Fortier said.
By halftime, the Zags led 32-20 and were shooting 12 for 24 from the field and 6 for 10 from long range. USF was 7 for 28 and 1 for 8.
USF twice crept within eight points in the third quarter and trailed by just nine late in the period, but Laura Stockton dished out a pair of assists – the second for a 3-pointer by Stach that pushed the lead to 44-29.
“Coming back from that was a really good confidence booster,” Stirton said.
By then it was all but over, as USF didn’t break the 30-point barrier until the waning moments of the quarter. Even an early rebounding deficit was put right, as the Bulldogs earned a 35-29 advantage on the boards.
Next up is what looks like an even tougher game on Saturday against Santa Clara, which is 12-2 overall and 3-0 in the WCC after an easy 67-45 win at Portland earlier Thursday.
“They’re not an easy team to play,” said Fortier, who praised the Broncos’ ability to spread the floor.
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