Gonzaga always seems eager to welcome a friendly battle of the bigs.
It’s not usually a fair matchup inside, with Gonzaga’s top scorers Jill Barta and Zykera Rice taking turns throughout the season dominating in the paint.
But when the Zags welcomed Saint Mary’s to the Kennel on Saturday, the bigs met their match against a pair of Gaels in the post who average well more than 50 percent from the field.
The Zags were most concerned about junior forward Megan McKay, who rarely leaves the paint and misses her shots less than 40 percent of the time.
“The game plan was to stay in front of her and block her out,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.
If only it had been that simple.
McKay and her sidekick, Sydney Raggio, beat up the Zags inside and rattled Gonzaga’s interior defense in a tough 72-56 loss, Gonzaga’s first slip in the West Coast Conference.
McKay and Raggio hushed Gonzaga’s defense with a combined 31 points and limited the Zags’ second-chance opportunities with 11 rebounds apiece.
McKay made the first jab at Gonzaga’s interior defense with three consecutive layups in the first 4 minutes that took away Gonzaga’s short-lived lead. She added one shot at the rim less than 2 minutes later to close out the quarter with eight points.
Gonzaga’s luck changed momentarily when McKay fell into foul trouble in the opening minutes of the second half. In nearly 3 minutes that McKay sat on the bench, the Zags dominated the paint. They went on a 6-0 run behind Rice’s pair of short-range shots and guard Emma Stach’s layup to narrow the Gaels’ lead to 13 points.
But the Zags still had to contain Raggio, who took the reins from McKay in the second half before McKay eventually fouled out in the final minutes of the fourth.
Raggio capitalized on Gonzaga’s spotty pressure under the rim with easy drives and layins. She weaved through Gonzaga’s bigs and scored seven of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter.
McKay and Raggio helped the Gaels to 47 rebounds and limited Gonzaga to 21. Barta, who averaged 8.7 rebounds heading into Saturday, pulled down just four in 30 minutes on the floor. Rice also had only four rebounds.
“We need to make adjustments, and as good as we’ve been defensively as a team, we got away from that today and we let it affect our offense,” Fortier said. “We’re going to learn from it and then we have to move on.”
Win streak snapped
Saturday’s loss snapped a 15-game win streak that began in Gonzaga’s victory over Saint Francis on Dec. 17. The streak was one game short of matching Fortier’s longest run in her four seasons as coach, dating back to her first season (2014-2015) when the Zags posted a 16-game winning streak through mostly conference play.
The loss also put a blemish on what was a 13-0 record in conference, two wins short of matching Fortier’s best start in conference, also in 2015.
The 15 consecutive wins were the fifth-longest run in program history and the fifth-longest active run of Division I teams in the country.
The Zags won nine road games in the streak, the longest streak under Fortier.