A fifth consecutive win is always sweet.
But dishing out a little payback almost always tastes a little sweeter.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs had a bitter reminder this week of last year’s heartbreak in Las Vegas when Santa Clara knocked GU out of the WCC tournament in the quarterfinals.
“I had to be on the bench for it,” said redshirt senior Elle Tinkle, who played only 10 games last year after having season-ending surgery on her knee. “I was ready to play them again.”
Tinkle and her teammates got the chance on Thursday night to take on Santa Clara for the first time since their 59-58 loss to the Broncos in March. The Zags served up some payback and made it a memorable night for the Broncos, topping Santa Clara 51-39 for the 14th time at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We slipped earlier in the conference play so we want to make sure that we’re dialed in and ready here at home,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said. “Tonight we battled and we were tough.”
It was certainly an uphill battle for the Zags from the start.
Senior Kiara Kudron put Gonzaga on the board with a layup at 9:08, but the Zags missed their next seven shots from the field. That gave Santa Clara the opportunity for a 6-0 run to put the Broncos up 8-2 halfway through the opening quarter.
The Zags had only five buckets out of 18 attempts from the field in the first quarter, as the Broncos hit more than half (5 of 9) of their field-goal shots. Santa Clara’s top shooter, Emily Wolph, piled up 11 of her 13 points in the first half, shooting perfectly from the field (2 for 2) and the free throw line (5 for 5).
The Broncos stretched their lead to as much as eight points in the second quarter, but that was as far as GU let them run.
Gonzaga held Santa Clara to two field goals in the second quarter and only one in the third – a jumper by Wolph.
“We figured it out in the second half,” Fortier said. “ I like their offense in the second half. We were looking better. We were moving the ball better.”
The Bulldogs went on a 15-2 run to put them on top 43-30 heading into the fourth quarter. Santa Clara had no field goals in almost 11 minutes in the second half as the Zags pulled away by as much as 15 points with two minutes left in the game.
Gonzaga outrebounded Santa Clara, one of the top rebounding teams in the conference, 36-35, grabbing 18 offensive boards and scoring 20 second-chance points.
“(The Broncos) are just scrappy and super physical and high energy,” Tinkle said. “For us, to end up barely kind of winning that rebounding match is huge.”
Tinkle was one rebound shy of a double-double on Thursday, scoring 13 points and 9 boards. Tinkle also grabbed four steals against Santa Clara.
Forward Jill Barta led Gonzaga for the third game in a row after scoring a career-high 33 points against Saint Mary’s and putting up 22 points at Loyola Marymount last week. The redshirt sophomore hit 13 of her game-high 17 points in the second half, and had six rebounds and seven steals.
Gonzaga’s Emma Stach scored nine of her 12 points from beyond the arc and had two more steals for the Zags.
GU grabbed 15 steals in total, compared to Santa Clara’s five, and piled up 26 points off Santa Clara’s 26 turnovers.
The Zags take on the Pilots in Portland on Saturday at 2 p.m.
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