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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

GU women’s season ends in second round of WNIT

Gonzaga guard Georgia Stirton (5) heads to the basket as Utah guard Danielle Rodriguez (22) defends during the second half of the second-round WNIT Monday in the McCarthey Athletic Center. COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Georgia Stirton (5) heads to the basket as Utah guard Danielle Rodriguez (22) defends during the second half of the second-round WNIT Monday in the McCarthey Athletic Center. COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Despite the finality of the moment, the eyes were still dry – defiantly so – outside the Gonzaga women’s lockerroom late Monday night.

The Bulldogs’ season – and the collegiate careers of Shelby Cheslek, Shaniqua Nilles, Chelsea Waters and Georgia Stirton – had just ended in a 92-77 loss to Utah in the second round of the Women’s NIT.

There was comfort in the fact that it ended in the McCarthey Athletic Center, where their fans had cheered them one last time. Or perhaps that made it tougher, as the memories flooded back from the place that’s become home.

“I’m just trying to hold it in,” admitted Cheslek, her eyes moist as she faced the cameras one last time in a Gonzaga uniform. “I’m sure that later it will be worse.”

Then it will be better, as Cheslek and her classmates reflect on their legacy: 101 wins and three straight trips to the NCAA, followed by a senior season that tested them more sternly, through injury and heartbreaking losses.

“They’ve left a different kind of foundation,” coach Lisa Fortier said. “We’ve talked how it is to be a leader on teams that are 16-0 and winning conference championships.

“They have led in a different way … and they’ve held this team together through a lot of adversity,” Fortier said.

There was more on Monday against the tall and talented Utes, a middle-of-the-Pac-12 team that still brought more physicality than most teams who visit The Kennel.

Gonzaga took an early eight-point lead, but things began to slip late in the second quarter. As the Bulldogs collapsed on 6-foot-6 post Emily Potter, the Utah guards began to find the range.

By halftime, GU had missed 11 of its last 16 shots while Utah (18-14) made 5 of 8 to lead 43-36 at intermission.

“They’re a tough guard and we really couldn’t stop them defensively,” Fortier said. “Early on we were fine, but once we got down we were playing catch-up.”

Things got worse in the third quarter. Jill Barta – who led GU with 18 points – opened the period with a 3-pointer, but Utah soon took a double-digit lead.

The deficit hit 18 later in the period, but the Bulldogs responded as if their season depended on it. The tide turned early in the fourth quarter, as Barta, Stirton and Laura Stockton made big plays and free throws.

But as good as the Bulldogs were at the line (23 of 30), the Utes were even better (24 of 28), and that was the difference down the stretch. Four times the Bulldogs cut the lead to eight, but each time the Utes responded.

The last Gonzaga surge came at the 2-minute mark on a layup by Stockton, but Utah made seven of its last eight foul shots while GU missed its last five shots from the field.

For Nilles, the end came with 35 seconds left in the game as she picked up her fifth foul. Her fellow seniors remained on the floor as Nilles walked off the court to the hugs of coaches and teammates.

“Then it hit me – I’m never going to be wearing this uniform again,” Nilles said.

“I’ve had such a great experience. … I still remember unpacking all my stauff and moving into my freshman dorm. Now I’m limping off the court, old as heck.”

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