They’ve already seized the moment. Now will it seize them?
Emotions ran high as the Zags clinched at least a share of the West Coast Conference regular-season title, but they’ll ratchet up considerably Saturday afternoon.
A win over Loyola Marymount would clinch the outright title, the top seed in the WCC Tournament and keep the 16th-ranked Zags (who are 26-3 overall) in contention to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games.
On top of all that, it’s Senior Day at the Kennel, a moment for celebration and tears for the Zags and about 6,000 of their closest friends.
“Senior Week is awesome, and we love it,” coach Lisa Fortier said earlier in the week. “We talked about playing for these guys, but we don’t want to overdo it, since at least two of them are pretty emotional about it.”
Make that all three. They’ve had a role in 88 wins and just 30 losses over the past four years, with three regular-season WCC titles.
They also on the cusp of their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
On Tuesday, Rice talked about “finishing what I started as a freshman who couldn’t run a play – now they run plays for me.
“I’m kind of bummed about it being our last home games,” added Rice, who was cheered after a conversation with Josh Perkins, who celebrated Senior Night last week.
“We talked about how 10 years from now, these could be the best teams in Gonzaga history,” said Rice, who expects a “solid 20 people” cheering for her in the Kennel.
They’ll come mostly from her hometown of Tacoma, but also include an aunt in Michigan, a brother from Colorado and old teammates from around the country.
“It’s going to be fun,” Rice said.
As usual, Stockton’s family will be a big presence for the girl from Gonzaga Prep who had plenty of offers but chose to stay close to home.
All week, Stockton has been “focusing on the little things, taking advantage of everything I can do. I just want to soak it all in.
“I’m excited and a little emotional about it, but I’m ready to go.”
Smith will have family and friends in from her hometown of Brewster, Wash.
“I’m hoping I don’t cry, but I probably will,” Smith said. “I’m going to miss this place so much.”
There’s also a game to win. At 15-2 in the WCC, the Zags are a game up on BYU, which figures to win its home finale against Santa Clara.
That means a loss to LMU would mean a shared title and the No. 2 seed in the WCC Tournament. No thanks, Fortier said. “We don’t want to share.”
GU hasn’t faced LMU since the WCC opener on Dec. 29 in Los Angeles. In that game, the Zags overcame a slow start, shot 63 percent in the second half to win 78-53.
The Lions are 17-12 overall and tied for fifth in the WCC at 10-7.
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