Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier didn’t know exactly what was in store for her Zags when they took on San Francisco in the West Coast Conference semifinal.
But she certainly didn’t expect a walk through the park.
The top-seeded Zags strolled to a spot in Tuesday’s WCC women’s championship game when they took down No. 4 USF 77-46 on Monday inside the Orleans Arena.
The last time Gonzaga met USF, the two squared up in a battle of the 3s. This time, Gonzaga showed up with the same consistent offense and a much stronger defensive end. And the Dons, well, just didn’t show up.
Gonzaga went on an immediate 9-0 run and kept the Dons off the board for more than four minutes. USF missed seven straight shots and finally hit a couple of field goals, but that’s all the Zags would allow in the first quarter.
“I think that the first quarter … set the tone for the game,” Fortier said. “I love the way we started the game with great team defense and didn’t let them get going like they did last time against us.”
One of USF’s top shooters, Rachel Howard, finally hit a shot in the second – her first in seven attempts. But the Dons went cold again and for the next five minutes, Gonzaga took USF for another ride.
The Zags went on 21-0 run in the second quarter that gave them a 35-point lead – their largest halftime margin this season was 32. A jolt in USF’s offense, including six straight points by Howard, helped narrow the halftime margin to 30 points and kept the Zags from setting a season record.
“We were just doing everything that we wanted to do and shut down their three main players,” said Kiara Kudron, who had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds. “It was just excellent team defense.”
The Dons were 18 for 70 from the floor and Gonzaga held USF’s starting guards to only nine makes. One of those star shooters, Kalyn Simon, never got herself on the board, missing all eight of her shots from the field.
The quick lead gave Fortier the opportunity to turn to her bench early. Gonzaga’s subs scored 26 points, led by Zykera Rice’s 13. Jessie Loera and Chandler Smith followed Rice with five points apiece and Emma Wolfram used her size to follow Kudron with six rebounds for the Zags.
Guard Emma Stach, who pressured Howard and fellow starting guard Anna Seilund on a majority of the their shots, notched 10 points, including a couple of her signature 3s.
“She is a little bit of an unsung hero on our team,” Fortier said of Stach. “She is the type of player that does whatever we need and in the starting lineup, she kind of doesn’t get as much credit.”
Gonzaga toppled USF in nearly every way possible. The Zags had 17 assists, compared to USF’s nine, and they outrebounded the Dons 43-38. Gonzaga even pulled out one more 3-pointer (5) than the Dons despite missing 10 from beyond the arc.
Gonzaga will face No. 3-seed Saint Mary’s on Tuesday in the WCC championship game.
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