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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Gonzaga women carry 12-game winning streak into challenging week

Gonzaga forward Jill Townsend slaps the ball away from Eastern Washington Violet Kapri Morrow on Nov. 30 in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When things are going this well, it’s easy to imagine trouble lurking around the next corner.

Gonzaga women’s coach Lisa Fortier is fighting that urge – after all, who wants to be a buzzkill on a team that’s won 12 consecutive games?

“It’s funny, there is a buzz about our team,” Fortier said Tuesday during a moment of introspection after practice at the Kennel.

“But I think I’m becoming a veteran, because I’m not buying into it – I’m fighting it every step of the way.”

That job got tougher this week: The Bulldogs (17-4 overall, 10-0 West Coast Conference) just crept into the “also receiving votes” section of the Top 25 poll.

They also moved up to a season-high 56th in RPI, rekindling hopes that an at-large berth is again a possibility should they drop a game at the WCC Tournament next month.

Like any coach, Fortier doesn’t want her players to think that far ahead.

“I’m such a positive person, that I get cautiously negative at times … I’m afraid that this or this is going to happen,” Fortier said.

“We’re continuing to get better … but we know that between now and the end of the season, something will come up.”

In the short term, that something is the dreaded road trip to San Diego and BYU. It’s the toughest one in the WCC, and one that GU hasn’t swept since 2013.

San Diego (12-9, 5-5) will bring size and athleticism to Thursday night’s contest at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

The Toreros are coming off a lost weekend at Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount but have all-WCC preseason selection Maya Hood (12.2 points, 7.1 rebounds per game), and double-digit scorers Aubrey Ward-El (14.6 ppg) and Sydney Williams (10.2 ppg.)

On Saturday, second-place BYU (14-7 and 7-3) will feature 6-foot-7 freshman center Sara Hamson, WCC scoring leader Cass Devashrayee (20 ppg) and a feisty crowd in Provo, Utah.

“All the upperclassmen have been telling us how important these games are,” GU freshman Jill Townsend said. “We’ve been talking a lot about BYU, but we’re not overlooking San Diego at all.”

Likewise, opponents are wise not to overlook Townsend and the GU freshman twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth.

Fortier and her staff have added meaningful minutes to most of the newcomers in a process that’s paying off when it matters most. All three are playing double-digit minutes this year and combining for an average of 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

“You can tell how much we trust them,” Fortier said. “We wouldn’t be where we are with just our starters.”

Barta finalist for Cheryl Miller Award

Gonzaga junior Jill Barta was named Wednesday as one of 10 finalists for the inaugural Cheryl Miller Award given to the top small forward in Division I.

The award is presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

Barta, a three-time West Coast Conference Player of the Week this season, is averaging 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. She is the only representative from the West region on the list.

The winner will be announced during ESPN2’s telecast of the national semifinal games in the Women’s Final Four in Columbus, Ohio, on March 30.