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Balanced Gonzaga women stroll past Portland

The Gonzaga women’s basketball team finally trailed in a conference game when Portland hit its opening shot Saturday. But it didn’t last long as the Bulldogs raced to a 79-57 victory before 5,072 fans at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gonzaga (10-4, 3-0 WCC) came into the game having led for the last 104 minutes, including never trailing in big wins last week over BYU and San Diego.

The Pilots took the first lead when Kari Luttinen hit a 3-pointer. Portland (2-12, 0-3) held that lead for 37 seconds in a game that Gonzaga otherwise dominated and led by as much as 33 points.

“We had a good collective effort,” coach Lisa Fortier said. “I thought it was a good, overall win.”

Gonzaga had five players score in double figures, led again by junior guard Elle Tinkle, who had 16 points and six rebounds.

“Her consistency is what we are looking for the most,” Fortier said of Tinkle.

Tinkle, who has pushed her scoring to 10.1 points a game, said the Portland defense limited her looks, but it just gave her teammates more opportunities.

“We are super proud of where we are right now,” Tinkle said. “But even with these wins, hopefully we can keep progressing.”

Center Shelby Cheslek scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Redshirt freshman center Emma Wolfram totaled 12 points and six rebounds, and senior guard Keani Albanez scored 12 points to go along with her five steals.

Gonzaga made 46.4 percent of its shots, including 7 of 20 from the 3-point arc.

“We dropped our turnover rate from about 20 a game down to 10 or 11,” Cheslek said. “That’s what has really helped us win these three (conference) games in a row.”

Portland was led by Cassandra Brown, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. Senior forward Cassandra Thompson, of Spirit Lake, had 10 points and five rebounds for the Pilots.

Fortier praised the play of starting guard Georgia Stirton, who struggled early in the season to adjust to Gonzaga’s style of play. Stirton finished with six points, seven rebounds and five assists.

“She now has some confidence in the system and other players have confidence in her,” Fortier said of Stirton. “At first, she was trying to figure out when we wanted her to go and when to pull back.”

A perfect example came just before the end of the first half. With just a few seconds on the clock, Stirton pushed the ball up the court, drew the defense and found an open Albanez, who knocked down a 3-pointer. It gave Gonzaga a 46-24 lead at halftime.

“It was a nice way to end the half,” Fortier said.

Season leading scorer Sunny Greinacher scored 10 points but had a half-dozen misses in the paint where Portland forwards challenged every play. Greinacher stepped out and hit several jumpers.

“The best thing about Sunny is that she is versatile,” Fortier said. “They were beating her up inside, but she also has an outside game. She’s not a one-trick pony.”

Gonzaga travels for its next games Thursday at San Francisco (9-6, 0-4) and Saturday at Santa Clara (5-8, 0-4).

Tinkle said she credits Gonzaga’s successful conference start to learning from the team’s four loses in the preseason.

“It was the same theme. We would compete, but it was just being able to finish,” she said. “I think we are pretty darn close … of where we need to be.”

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