Character-building is seldom this much fun.
The Gonzaga women were tested in many different ways Saturday, but responded with grit, power and waves of energy from the bench in an 88-65 win over Pacific.
All three qualities were on display in the second and third quarters, as GU outscored the Tigers 60-30 on the way to improving to 15-1 overall and 4-0 in the West Coast Conference.
The Zags also earned their 11th consecutive win and two days off next week as they host a lone game against Portland on Saturday.
“They deserve it,” coach Lisa Fortier said.
Game day – the Zags’ fourth in eight days – began with breakfast and the news that GU is ranked 10th in the latest Ratings Percentage Index.
That’s heady stuff, but reality sank in shortly after the noon tipoff at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The visiting Tigers made six of their first seven shots from 3-point range and took an 11-point lead into the second quarter.
“It was really frustrating,” GU forward Jenn Wirth said. “But in those types of games, you have to bank on the fact that they’re not going to keep shooting like that.”
More important, the Zags could count on a big presence in the paint from Wirth, her twin sister Lee Anne and senior forward Zykera Rice. Together they accounted for 22 rebounds – one more than Pacific’s entire team – 43 points and utter dominance in the paint.
Compared with the bruising inside battle with Saint Mary’s two nights earlier, this seemed easy. It wasn’t.
“I was dead tired today, but Pacific really battled, too,” said Jenn Wirth, who came off the bench and scored a career-high 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting.
A projected starter before the season began, but sidelined early in the year with a broken index finger, Wirth has slowly found her form.
“She played great,” Fortier said. “Before she got hurt, we were trying to get her to be more aggressive in wanting the ball and demanding it. She really wanted the ball today.”
Her teammates complied, dishing out 24 assists on the break and in their half-court offense. Point guard Jessie Loera, who like Jenn Wirth missed several games, had eight assists in just 21 minutes on the court.
Laura Stockton had five more, helping the GU bigs outscore Pacific 52-14 in the paint while outrebounding the Tigers 40-21.
Pacific (9-4, 2-1) managed just four offense rebounds and got just seven points from its bench while GU had 39.
Rice, the WCC Player of the Week after a road sweep last week in Southern California, led the way with 21 points and seven boards.
The double-digit deficit was finally erased late in the second quarter, as Jenn Wirth broke a 39-all tie with a layup off a fine pass from Stockton.
GU led the rest of the way – 48-42 at intermission, 74-55 after a lockdown defensive effort in the third quarter and finally by 23.
Pacific guard Ameela Lee scored 21 points but only three after halftime. Pacific made just 1 of 8 long-range shots in the second half.
The Zags got 13 points from Jill Townsend and 10 from Katie Campbell, who helped fuel a 25-10 advantage in points scored off turnovers.
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