For once, Shelby Cheslek will be looking up at the competition – and she’s looking forward to it.
Gonzaga’s 6-foot-5 senior post will be giving up an inch to Utah sophomore Emily Potter when they meet on Monday night in a second-round Women’s NIT game at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I think it’s fun to go against tall players,” Cheslek said after the Bulldogs held their final practice in preparation for the Utes. “It’s just another game – we’re going to have fun tomorrow.”
That’s one key to winning in the postseason, GU coach Lisa Fortier said.
“This time of year it’s about confidence, but also about excitement and being happy to play,” Fortier said.
The fun factor figures to increase five-fold from Thursday, when barely a thousand fans showed up because the GU men were playing in the NCAA tournament the same evening.
“We’re spoiled, but we’re hopeful for a big crowd on Monday,” Fortier said while praising the fans who watched her team dismantle UC Riverside 88-54.
“The people who came were really into it,” Fortier said.
They also provided support during a scary moment late in the third quarter, when Shaniqua Nilles was knocked to the floor by an elbow from a Riverside player.
As Nilles was being wheeled off, the crowd cheered and she raised her arms in appreciation.
“It’s really special to know that people are genuinely concerned about you,” Nilles said. “They’re not worried about Shaq the basketball player at that point, but my well being as a human being.”
At practice on Sunday, Nilles showed no ill effects “other than a bump on the noggin and a stiff jaw” and expects to play against Utah.
The Utes are only 17-15 overall (8-10 in the Pac-12), but are coming off a dominating 95-61 home win over Montana State on Friday. Their focal point on both ends of the floor is 6-foot-6 sophomore post Emily Potter, who averages 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The other big weapons are Paige Crozon, a 6-1 junior wing; and Danielle Rodriguez, a 5-10 guard. Together they account for 57 percent of Utah’s scoring.
To win the battle inside, Fortier said the Bulldogs “have to make some strong moves – you can’t throw up shots that are soft. When teams throw up shots that are soft, Shelby checks it, and Potter will do the same.”
If the Bulldogs win, they will advance to the third round against either Santa Clara – which ended their NCAA hopes in the West Coast Conference tournament – or Oregon, which is led by former GU coach Kelly Graves.