It’s easier to keep your eyes on the prize when you’re not daubing them with a tissue.
With that in mind, the Gonzaga women were a focused group Tuesday afternoon, less preoccupied with Senior Day than preparing for the hottest team in the West Coast Conference.
That would be the Pepperdine Waves, winners of eight straight games going into Thursday night’s game at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It’s a big week for us,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said as she nodded at seniors Laura Stockton, Zykera Rice and Chandler Smith. “We hope it’s a week where we can honor them and send them out in style.”
By definition, that means beating the Waves on Thursday and Loyola Marymount two days later to clinch a third consecutive WCC regular-season title.
Do that and take care of business at the WCC Tournament and the 16th-ranked Zags can take a shot at their other dreams.
“Like making a splash in the NCAAs,” Fortier said.
Not so fast, Rice said.
“The NCAAs are so far away,” Rice said. “It’s easy to overlook all the things you need to do and focus on how to get there.”
At 25-3 overall and 14-2 in the conference, the Zags have all but clinched an NCAA berth, but they’re just a game up on BYU and two on Pepperdine with two games left.
The Waves’ sweep of Pacific and Saint Mary’s last week leaves them at 19-8 overall and a program-best 12-4 in the WCC.
Should the worst happen and GU loses twice while BYU and Pepperdine win out, the Zags would have to play in the WCC quarterfinals.
On Tuesday, the Zags prepped for Pepperdine by honing their offense, working on “some different options on how teams have been defending us,” Fortier said.
At the other end of the court, GU will focus on senior forward Yasmine Robinson-Bacote, who earned WCC Player of the Week honors by averaging 27.5 points and 10 rebounds in her final two home games.
For the season, Robinson-Bacote leads the WCC with an average of 20.4 points a game.
“Great team defense and great team offense will overcome any great individual, and that’s what our game play is going to be on Thursday,” Fortier said.
The Zags got just that in the teams’ first meeting, a 79-54 GU win on New Year’s Eve in Malibu, California.
In that game, Rice tied a career high with 23 points and made 11 of 12 shots (for a program-record 91.7 percent).
The Zags also held Pepperdine to 26 percent shooting from the field and Robinson-Bacote to 14 points.
“That was a long time ago,” Fortier said.
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