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Gonzaga women face formidable UC Riverside squad in WNIT

Gonzaga’s Sunny Greinacher, left, and Elle Tinkle, right, surround Brittany Crain, center, of UC Riverside in a game on Dec. 16. 2013. Gonzaga won that game, but Crain is back and averages more than 22 points a game. The two teams meet Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center in the first round of the WNIT. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Sunny Greinacher, left, and Elle Tinkle, right, surround Brittany Crain, center, of UC Riverside in a game on Dec. 16. 2013. Gonzaga won that game, but Crain is back and averages more than 22 points a game. The two teams meet Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center in the first round of the WNIT. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Gonzaga women have a request for their fans Thursday night: Please stick around after halftime.

The Bulldogs will start second half of their WNIT game against UC Riverside just as the GU men tip off in against Seton Hall in the NCAA Tournament.

Women’s coach Lisa Fortier has some advice for conflicted fans.

“Everybody has a DVR these days, right?” Fortier said after practice Tuesday at the McCarthey Center. “You can come to our game and go home for the second half of the men’s game.”

“We know Spokane will do that for us,” Fortier said.

Those who stay – and don’t keep glancing down at their phones for updates on the men’s game – should be rewarded with a good game: UC Riverside is 23-8 overall and narrowly missed a spot in the NCAAs after losing in the semifinals of the Big West Conference Tournament.

Riverside ranks 66th in the RPI rankings, 50 points better than Gonzaga. The Highlanders swept the Big West regular season with a 16-0 record and have won 17 of their last 18 games. Also, they own double-digit wins over San Diego State and Fresno State and lost by only 6 points at then-21st-ranked Cal.

The Highlanders also have a marquee player in senior guard Brittany Crain, whose 22.8 scoring average is eighth in the nation. The 5-foot-8 Crain also shoots 48 percent from the field and almost 40 percent from long range.

“She would be an all-conference player in any league,” said Fortier, who also said she’s impressed with the Highlanders’ motion offense.

“They run it very well,” Fortier said.

Another big talent is Rejane Verin, a 6-1 junior forward from Guadeloupe who averages 14 points but leads the team in rebounding (with 8.8 per game) and assists (4.3).

Meanwhile, Gonzaga (18-13) has moved on emotionally from the WCC tournament, where they lost on March 4 in the quarterfinals to Santa Clara.

Reconciled to the end of their seven-year stretch of NCAA appearances, senior Shaniqua Nilles said that after returning from Las Vegas, “We all had a rebirth moment, and we came in here wanting to work.”

Notes

This is Gonzaga’s 10th straight postseason appearance. … GU leads the series 7-1. In their last meeting, the Bulldogs beat Riverside 87-43 in the Kennel in 2013. … Riverside’s lone victory in the series was a 75-65 overtime win in the 2007 ASU Classic in Tempe, Ariz. … GU is 14-3 at home all-time versus current Big West opponents, and has won 12 straight against Big West teams at home.

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