Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to get out of a hole.
Contrary as that sounds, it was the winning formula Saturday afternoon for the Gonzaga women in their 68-61 West Coast Conference win over Pacific at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The hard work began moments after Thursday’s one-point loss to Saint Mary’s, the Bulldogs’ third straight setback. After her last-second shot missed the mark, freshman forward Jill Barta picked herself off the floor and hit the locker room – but not the showers.
There was more work to do. For more than an hour, Barta was alone on the court, trying to get little bit better.
“You do what you have to do,” Barta said. “That game was a hard loss … I had to get some shots and get confident again.”
That took even more work – the Bulldogs trailed Pacific by three at halftime – but they regained a little swagger in the second half by hitting some big 3-point shots, taking three charges and turning back several Pacific rallies.
“We’re on the way up,” Barta said.
Time will tell if she’s right – the Bulldogs are still in fourth place in the WCC and have a tough game at Santa Clara on Thursday – but Saturday’s win got them moving in the right direction. At 14-7 overall and 6-3 in the conference, they still have an outside shot at their 11th straight regular-season title and an at-large berth in the NCAAs should they falter in the WCC tournament.
That would have been out the window with another loss against seventh-place Pacific (10-11, 3-6). The Bulldogs started down that path by missing eight of their first 10 shots and were fortunate to trail by just 27-24 at intermission after shooting 28 percent from the field and suffering 12 turnovers.
Several of those came from overpenetration, according to coach Lisa Fortier, who stressed the importance of ball-reversal in the half-court offense.
“I think we were just trying to do too much,” Fortier said. “In the second half we did a better job of reading the defense and staying patient and calm and working the ball until we got those great shots.”
A few other adjustments included better defense against Tigers guard Desire Finnie, who had 15 points in the first half just nine in the second half.
The result was a strong third quarter in which GU outscored Pacific 24-10, took two charges and found the range from outside.
“I think we took good shots and we had confidence,” said guard Emma Stach, who was 3 for 4 from 3-point range and finished with 13 points.
As a team, the Bulldogs shot 56 percent (9 for 16) from long range, compared to 14 for 39 (36 percent) inside the arc.
“We played as a team and we had fun as a team,” Stach said.
The fun was just beginning as GU took a 48-39 lead into the fourth quarter. Barta pushed the advantage to 58-47 on a free throw with 7:08 to play, but the Tigers got back-to-back 3s to make it a five-point game two minutes later.
In need of big shot, GU went to Shelby Cheslek, who scored a career-high 20 points on Thursday but was struggling against Pacific. With less than five minutes to play, Cheslek had missed 8 of 10 shots and 4 of 8 free throws.
Undaunted, Cheslek hit a short jumper with 4:30 left, then went to the line a few seconds later. She hit both to restore the nine-point lead (62-53).
Barely a minute later, the lead was down to four, but Laura Stockton nailed two free throws and Shaniqua Nilles hit a layup to make it 66-58 with 2:10 left. While Pacific missed five of its last six shots, Stach iced the game on two free throws with 59 seconds left.
Follow along with the Zags
Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.