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Gonzaga women rally on Senior Night, secure WCC title

The excitement built up from the majority of wins throughout the regular season doesn’t usually linger for long.

Sure, the Zags celebrate and they congratulate each other, but there’s no relishing the moment. By the time the clock runs out, they’re already focusing on the next game.

But head coach Lisa Fortier admitted that Thursday night’s 62-57 win over San Diego was a bit different than any other victory this season. Her Zags would remember this one for a long time.

“Down the road, they’ll always be able to look back at this one and say this was, this was something special,” Fortier said.

Especially for the seniorsElle Tinkle, Kiara Kudron and Makenlee Williams. But it wasn’t the smoothest ride to their final win on the Gonzaga court.

In what seemed to be a nonstop fight to the finish on Senior Night, Gonzaga (23-5, 14-3 West Coast Conference) bounced back from a rough first quarter and held off several runs from the Toreros to shut down San Diego (12-15, 6-11) in the final minutes.

Along with a scrappy win at home, the Zags also sent their three seniors out with a nice parting gift – the WCC regular season title.

That feat was something the seniors didn’t mind checking off their lists before bidding farewell to their fans at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“We came into this year with this being one of our main goals, so it was nice in the locker room to check that off on the white board,” Tinkle said.

Securing the title didn’t seem promising soon after tipoff. The Zags got in early foul trouble and picked up nine fouls in the first that sent the Toreros to the line five times. Gonzaga fell behind for more than eight minutes as the Toreros built their lead to as much as five points in the first.

A couple of makes at the free throw line by Tinkle and a 3 by sophomore Zhane Templeton gave the lead back to the Bulldogs, but San Diego went on a quick 7-0 run that put the Zags behind again.

Then a freshman came to the rescue.

First-year guard Jessie Loera stepped in for Laura Stockton in the third quarter and got the Zags rolling. She hit a 3 and immediately came back with a layup that put the Zags up 41-36 and gave Gonzaga the lead for good.

But the Toreros were persistent. They went on a 6-0 run and pulled within two points with 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Jill Barta hit a couple free throws and nailed a layup as the Zags held on to a 3-point lead with less than a minute left.

San Diego missed two attempts from 3-point range and Loera was fouled on Gonzaga’s final possesion, sending her to the line with four seconds left.

“Those free throws at the end, she was kind of nervous,” Kudron said of Loera. “I just told her to relax and she was going to knock them down.”

Loera hit both shots to secure this season’s final victory in Spokane.

Loera put up nine points and had four assists and Stockton scored eight points for the Zags. Kudron hit seven points and Williams pulled out six points – both 3-point shots.

Kudron also capped off her run in the Kennel with 10 rebounds to give her 607 career boards, the 17th Zag to reach the 600-rebound milestone.

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