The Gonzaga players heard it early and often this week: Get out of the gates fast this time against Washington State.
The Bulldogs got the message, then delivered a record-breaking first quarter in beating the Cougars 79-61 Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I love how we came out,” coach Lisa Fortier said after her second win over a Pac-12 school this season.
Other than the Cougars, who wouldn’t? GU’s 34-point opening quarter was the best quarter in school history, one point better than their effort against BYU last February.
That was good enough for a 14-point lead, which stretched to 49-31 at halftime and stayed in double digits the rest of the way.
There were a few anxious moments – notably an early third-quarter run that pulled WSU within 10 points – but the Bulldogs (6-2) quickly regained control to give coach Lisa Fortier her first win in three tries against the regional rival Cougars.
That point wasn’t lost on Fortier’s players, even the new ones.
“I’ve heard about it – now it’s my rivalry too,” said guard Makenlee Williams, who ticked off the names of teammates who hadn’t beaten WSU in three years.
“I’m happy and the team is happy,” said Williams, who came off the bench to deliver nine points on a trio of threes, all in the second half.
On this night, happiness was also about sharing. Forward Jill Barta had 12 points in the first quarter but just four the rest of the way as the Bulldogs showed their depth in front of a crowd of 5,724.
Ten Bulldogs played double-digit minutes, but none more than Laura Stockton’s 30.
“I think they really have confidence in each other, and of course everyone wants to play,” said Fortier, who got some nudges from a few starters to get back in the action in the second half.
“They know it’s all in good fun. They’re battling each other day, but they genuinely feel good when their teammates have success,” Fortier said.
Success came in all phases Thursday night. GU shot 55 percent from the field and even better – 60 percent – from long range, while outrebounding the Cougs 36-27 and holding them to 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.
“The game was lost at the three-point line, or won for Gonzaga if you want to look at it that way,” WSU coach June Daugherty said.
Fortier and her staff will find some flaws on film, but saw just one after looking at the stat sheet: 17 turnovers. “We had only six in the first half,” she sighed.
The cougars were hampered by the early loss of leading scorer Borislava Hristova, who left after eight minutes with a foot injury.
“She’ll be evaluated by our medical staff, probably more so when we get back to Pullman in the morning, so we don’t know,” Daugherty said. “But obviously she couldn’t go, and that’s not a good sign.”
WSU (5-4) got back into the game early in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 54-44, but went scoreless for almost seven minutes and GU led 65-44 going into the fourth quarter.
The Cougars were led by freshman guard Chanelle Molina, who had 11 points and four assists.
Eastern takes on another regional rival Sunday at Eastern Washington. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. WSU is at Saint Louis on Dec. 18.
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