LAS VEGAS – When in doubt, pass the ball to Jill Barta.
That seemed to be the general consensus among the Zags on Tuesday when Gonzaga took down Saint Mary’s 86-75 for the West Coast Conference title.
Barta was nearly invincible in the battle for a first-place trophy and an automatic berth in they NCAA Tournament. The sophomore scored a career-high 37 points and entered the WCC’s record book for the most points scored in a championship game.
Gonzaga’s first conference championship since 2014 was certainly something to celebrate, but Barta’s feat on the stat sheet got the nod from Lisa Fortier, who picked up her first WCC championship as Gonzaga’s head coach.
“It’s pretty impressive,” she said.
More like pretty incredible.
Barta created 19 opportunities for herself at the basket and the forward hit 12 of them, including five 3-pointers that plucked the Zags out of a few sluggish offensive runs. She also led Gonzaga with a perfect performance at the line (8 for 8).
“It was just one of those nights where we worked as a team and I just took the shots that were there for me,” Barta said. “Those happen to be quite a few I guess.”
Especially in the first half.
Barta entered double-digit territory in just over six minutes on the court. Her 13 first-quarter points helped the Zags pile up 32 points in 10 minutes. The Zags kept Saint Mary’s off the board for nearly three minutes as they went on an 8-0 run that began with sophomore guard Laura Stockton’s back-to-back layups.
But the Zags weren’t finished. They went on another run late in the quarter to close out the first period with a 17-point lead.
Barta put up 22 points in the first half alone, 10 fewer than the entire Saint Mary’s team. The Zags left the half with a season-high 53 points on 21-of-36 shooting.
Saint Mary’s came back from the half with some fire and took advantage of Gonzaga’s eight straight misses over more than five minutes in the third quarter. The Gaels went on a 10-0 run that narrowed the deficit to nine points.
The closest Saint Mary’s got to the Zags was early in the fourth quarter when the Gaels pulled within six of Gonzaga after the Zags led by as many as 25 in the second quarter. But they still had to fight off Barta. The sophomore jolted the Zags’ offense with back-to-back 3s that stretched Gonzaga’s lead to 74-57 in the final minutes.
“Overall, we had a bunch of people make contributions. We were able to create some offense off of our defense,” Fortier said. “ I am so excited for our players, you know, we came down here to win three games and we knew that they weren’t going to be easy.”
Barta averaged 24 points in three games at the Orleans Arena. She was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by two teammates: senior forward Kiara Kudron and Stockton.
Saint Mary’s guards Sydney Raggio and Devyn Galland took the remaining spots on the team. Galland, who attended Lewis and Clark High School, led Saint Mary’s with 16 points against the Zags.
The Zags finished shooting 32 of 67 from the field, with 42 points inside the paint. They outrebounded the Gaels 38-29 and missed only one shot at the line (14 of 15).
Kudron was one rebound short of a double-double, finishing with 14 points and nine boards. Fellow big Emma Wolfram followed Kudron with 10 points and seven boards and Stockton scored six points and dished out a game-high eight assists.
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