LAS VEGAS – When in doubt, pass the ball to Jill Barta.
That seems to be Gonzaga’s motto this season.
“She does a good job of knocking down the shots when we need her to knock down the shots,” GU junior forward Zykera Rice said. “And we do a really good job at getting her the ball when she’s open.”
The Zags did an exceptional job of finding Barta on Friday in an 81-70 victory over Pepperdine in a West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinal at Orleans Arena.
Barta, the WCC Player of the Year, was getting good looks from all over the court in the first half and scored 19 of her 24 points in her first 11 minutes.
Pepperdine (10-20) attempted to contain Barta with double coverage inside at times and forced the junior forward to pull outside, but she wasn’t fazed. Midway through the first quarter, she knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Zags a 10-point lead.
The Zags (25-5) stuck to their motto and kept putting the ball in Barta’s hands. After her 3s, they found Barta for a basket at the rim and then again for a jumper, which rounded out 10 consecutive points for her.
Gonzaga jumped to a 29-point lead at the half with the help of a 14-0 run in the second quarter. Barta powered the run with seven points, including an opening 3-pointer. Sophomore guard Jessie Loera hit another 3 and senior guard Emma Stach followed with a layup to put the Zags up 41-20.
Gonzaga’s momentum started to slow almost immediately in the second half after Rice opened the third quarter with a jumper. It would be Gonzaga’s only field goal in more than 7 minutes, but the Bulldogs still managed to get scores from five trips to the line.
The Waves momentarily let up on their interior defense and allowed open paths to the basket in the final minutes of the third quarter. Loera and freshman forward LeeAnne Wirth broke the drought and drove inside for three baskets at the rim.
Gonzaga’s burst of energy was short-lived and the Zags fell off track again in the fourth. Gonzaga’s defense let up and allowed Pepperdine 32 points in the quarter. The Waves pulled within nine points on a 17-2 run after falling behind by as much as 34 points in the third.
“Unfortunately, we got a little bit soft and we relaxed, definitely in the fourth quarter,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said.
Pepperdine’s top scorer, Yasmine Robinson-Bacote, scored 10 of her team-high 19 points in the fourth, including a pair of 3s. The Waves hit 73.3 percent of their field goals in the quarter (11 of 15), while the Zags had just four baskets from the field.
“Thankful that it was enough for us,” Fortier said. “We had a great first half and so that was able to still help us to rally.”
Most of Gonzaga’s successful first half was powered by seven 3-pointers. The Zags finished the day with a season-high nine 3s in 20 attempts.
The Zags have dominated inside all season, but they haven’t been as strong from distance. In recent showings, they have finally found a way to get some buckets from 3-point range.
“They’re starting to fall for us. They’re starting to fall for certain players,” Barta said. “It’s really easy when one person makes a 3, it’s easy for the next person to make a 3.”
Barta and Loera led the Zags with three 3-pointers apiece. Stach, Wirth and sophomore guard Katie Campbell also added 3s for the Zags.
Loera followed Barta in double digits, coming off the bench for 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
The Zags outscored Pepperdine in the paint 32-24 and dominated the glass with 36 rebounds. Pepperdine finished with 27 boards.
The win moved Gonzaga to the semifinals on Monday. They will meet fifth-seeded San Francisco at noon. The Dons knocked off No. 4-seeded Loyola Marymount 89-76 in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Pacific upsets Gaels
Desire Finnie came off the bench and scored a team-high 25 points to lead the seventh-seeded Pacific Tigers to a 77-73 win over the second-seeded Saint Mary’s Gaels.
The Gaels (20-10) led the Tigers (15-16) for the entire game before faltering in the final minutes when Pacific went on an 11-0 run.
Sydney Raggio led the Gaels with 26 points and 15 rebounds. Stella Beck and Megan McKay, both of whom led the conference this season in field-goal percentage, followed with 19 and 17 points, respectively.
Saint Mary’s was the only team to beat Gonzaga in conference this season. The Zags, who set a WCC record with 17 conference wins, had their 15-game winning streak snapped in a 72-56 loss to the Gaels in Spokane on Feb. 10.
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