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Keani Albanez’s career night leads Gonzaga women to 12th straight win

The Gonzaga women’s basketball team couldn’t get out of its own way to start the game, but the Bulldogs turned on the jets and raced to a commanding 76-49 win Thursday night over Santa Clara.

Gonzaga senior Keani Albanez scored a career-high 22 points as the Bulldogs (18-4, 11-0 West Coast Conference) won their 12th consecutive game in front of 5,082 fans inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I liked the way we shared the ball and controlled the tempo,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said. “We definitely won that game with energy and toughness inside.”

Fortier said the game plan was to make sure all five defenders knew where Santa Clara’s leading scorer, Nici Gilday, was at all times. Gilday, who averages almost 19 points a game, finished with two points on 1-of-10 shooting.

“If you can stop (Gilday), you are in a good position to stop the rest of the team,” Fortier said.

The Zags threw a full helping of 6-foot-2 Elle Tinkle at 5-7 Gilday. Tinkle only scored six points, but she also had five rebounds, three assists and four steals.

“She does a lot of stuff for us,” Fortier said of Tinkle. “She was on Gilday, which was invaluable.”

But Gonzaga couldn’t get much to work in the first half and turned the ball over 11 times, which is about what the Zags had been averaging for a full game.

In one sequence, Albanez got a steal and fed Tinkle on a fast break. Tinkle missed the layup, but she stole the ball at the other end and raced the other way only to be called for a charge.

Shaniqua Nilles immediately stole the ball again and fed Emma Wolfram. She drove to the basket and traveled.

Despite that, Albanez kept Gonzaga ahead with her 3-point shooting and 15 first-half points.

Raquel Avila had 14 for Santa Clara (7-14, 2-10) in the first half but only one point after the break. She came into the night averaging 4.3 points a game.

“In the first half we kind of struggled,” GU junior center Shelby Cheslek said. “This shows how we can play when we turn it on.”

Cheslek scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Senior forward Sunny Greinacher scored 13. Guards Georgia Stirton, Emma Stach and center Wolfram scored seven points apiece.

Gonzaga shot 45 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle 41-30, but the night belonged to Albanez.

“You always want to have one good game,” Albanez said. “I’ve been waiting patiently for it. I’m glad it’s finally come.”

Gonzaga takes on San Francisco at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“They are another team that pressures a lot,” Fortier said. “They will be looking to attack us. Our defense will be tested.”

The Bulldogs are 15-0 this season when they score 70 points or more. They haven’t lost since the Dec. 15 game at Northwestern.

“It’s been fun. I get a little worked up on the sidelines, but the girls are having fun,” Fortier said. “It’s been a great team to coach so far.”

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