That old saw about defense winning championships was on full display Saturday afternoon at the Kennel.
Of course, the Gonzaga women had long ago clinched the West Coast Conference regular-season title. This was about the Zags making a statement and taking another step toward the one that really matters.
And did they ever.
“We were ready and dialed in,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said after a 62-37 shutdown of BYU that put an exclamation point on Gonzaga’s defensive dominance this year in the WCC.
The next stop, defensive and otherwise, will come Friday in Las Vegas at the WCC Tournament. Top-seeded Gonzaga (24-5, 17-1 WCC) will play Pepperdine or Santa Clara in the quarterfinals at noon Friday at the Orleans Arena.
“We’re not finished yet,” senior Emma Stach told the crowd on an emotional Senior Day, which ended with a net-cutting and the celebration of the program’s 13th regular-season title in the past 14 years.
The Gonzaga women uncorked that emotion, then bottled up BYU with their best defensive effort of the year. The third-place Cougars (16-13, 11-7) shot just 23 percent from the field and turned the ball over 22 times.
If BYU looked disjointed on offense, the Zags had something to do with it. Every BYU pass was an adventure, with steals – 16 of them – and tipped balls seemingly punctuating every other possession.
WCC scoring leader Cassie Broadhead Devashrayee was hounded into a 1-for-10 shooting day and finished with seven points. She came into the game averaging almost 20.
Gonzaga set the tone in the first quarter, giving up a season-low two points in the period as BYU went 1 for 12 from the field.
“That was the difference, our first-quarter defense,” Fortier said. “We came out ready to play team defense. We know how good their individual players are, they’re better than us one-on-one defensively, so we had to play as a team.”
The Zags took a 16-2 first-quarter lead and steadily built it from there, going up 33-15 at halftime.
That 15-point total was another season low for GU opponents. Santa Clara managed just 16 in the Kennel on Jan. 20.
The Zags’ defense was so good they shrugged off a 5 1/2-minute scoring drought to begin the second half.
So good that forward Zykera Rice was confident enough to attempt a slam dunk following a steal. She missed, but drew the biggest cheer of the afternoon from the sellout crowd of 6,000.
Seconds later, the lead was down to 37-25 and the Cougars were back in the game – until they weren’t, thanks to an 8-2 GU run to close the third quarter.
Less than two minutes into the fourth, Jenn Wirth hit a layup to give GU a 20-point lead and the celebration began.
“I don’t know what the extra motivation was,” Fortier said.
Perhaps it was the chance to set a WCC record with 17 conference wins or just the impetus of Senior Day.
“We just tried to get them motivated for themselves,” Fortier said.
Gonzaga to open WCC Tournament on Friday
Top-seeded Gonzaga will begin defense of its West Coast Conference tournament title on Friday at noon in a quarterfinal game against Pepperdine or Santa Clara.
The tournament runs through March 7 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs, who finished 17-1 in the WCC and 24-5 overall, swept both teams during the regular season.
A win on Friday would put the Zags in the semifinals at noon Monday.
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