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Best of the best: Looking back on ‘one of the most special seasons’ in Gonzaga women’s basketball history

UPDATED: Sat., March 9, 2019

In the headlong rush to the postseason, it’s easy to throw out the rearview mirror and judge every team by how it holds up under the madness of March.

For Gonzaga women’s basketball fans, that would be a mistake and terribly unfair, because this was a regular season to remember.

In a year full of superlatives for the Gonzaga women, it’s time to offer another: This was without doubt the best regular season in school history.

This year’s Zags posted the best record, and the highest rankings, RPI and (soon) seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s been one of the most special seasons for everyone,” guard Jill Townsend said after practice on Wednesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“It’s cool to look back and see that we’ve done some things that no Gonzaga team has done.”

With the Zags’ next game on Monday against Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference semifinals, it’s time to savor the superlatives.

Asked how this team compares to the all-time greats, GU coach Lisa Fortier said, “It should definitely be in the conversation.”

Fortier should know: She’s been a part of every noteworthy GU team, either as head coach or as an assistant under former coach Kelly Graves.

“The difference is the depth of this team,” Fortier said. “Some of those very good teams didn’t have as good of players at eighth, ninth or even seventh on the depth chart.”

Here’s a conversation-starter for any longtime fan: How many other GU teams managed to win 90 percent of their regular-season games?

The answer: only this one, which went 27-3.

How about a No. 13 ranking in the Associated Press poll, which is where this year’s team sits going into the postseason? Again, this team stands alone, with the closest being a No. 15 ranking in 2009-10.

It’s the same story in the coaches’ poll: GU is 12th. That’s three spots better than the No. 15 ranking achieved by the 2010 team and by Graves’ last squad, in 2013-14.

This year’s season’s also is the winningest, unless you count the 1984-85 squad that went 28-4 while competing at the NAIA level.

Two other teams are close: the 2009-10 team, which went 25-4 in the regular season, and the storied 2010-11 squad, which posted a 26-4 regular-season record before making history with the program’s only Elite Eight appearance.

Gonzaga players celebrate as they watch the selection show Monday March 15, 2010 and find out they will play North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Championship Tournament. From left are Courtney Vandersloot, Carter Schick, Vivian Frieson and Heather Bowman. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga players celebrate as they watch the selection show Monday March 15, 2010 and find out they will play North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Championship Tournament. From left are Courtney Vandersloot, Carter Schick, Vivian Frieson and Heather Bowman. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Those teams managed to sweep their WCC opponents, while the current team went 16-2.

However, this season’s squad went 1-1 against ranked opponents, falling to then-No.1 Notre Dame in the Vancouver Showcase and beating No. 8 Stanford in the Kennel.

The ultimate metric might be NCAA seeding. The 2009-10 squad earned a No. 7 seed, while the following season’s team merited only a No. 11 seed despite a star-studded lineup that included Courtney Vandersloot, Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon.

The reason: They lost three of their first five games – by five at unranked USC, by six at third-ranked Stanford (their only ranked opponent in the regular season) and by one at unranked Ole Miss.

This season’s team also had the fastest start in program history, going 11-1 in nonconference play.

Even should they lose in the WCC semifinals, this year’s Zags will earn at worst a No. 6 seed.

A No. 5 seems more likely, and there’s still hope for a precious No. 4 seed and a chance to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games.

Ultimately, that may decide whether this season’s team will go down as the all-time greatest.

Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga comes off the floor for the last time to a standing ovation and hugs from her teammates and head coach, Kelly Graves. Gonzaga lost to Stanford on Monday, March 28, 2011, 83-60 to end their run in the NCAA Tournament at the Elite Eight. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga comes off the floor for the last time to a standing ovation and hugs from her teammates and head coach, Kelly Graves. Gonzaga lost to Stanford on Monday, March 28, 2011, 83-60 to end their run in the NCAA Tournament at the Elite Eight. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

The 2010-11 squad benefited from the old NCAA rule that allowed lower-seeded teams to bid on hosting first- and second-round games.

Gonzaga did just that in a historic run that saw them become the lowest seed to make a regional final in the women’s tournament.

The Bulldogs beat Iowa and No. 8 UCLA in the Kennel, then defeated Louisville in a Sweet 16 game at the Arena before falling to Stanford in the Elite Eight.

Three years later, the NCAA changed the rules, awarding hosting rights to the top 16 teams selected by the committee.

Selection Monday is just more than a week away. Until then, the Zags will savor the best regular season in school history.

“Regardless of what the finish is like,” Fortier said.

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Zykera Rice (00) grins as she addresses fans following GU's win against LMU on Saturday, March 2, 2019, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Zykera Rice (00) grins as she addresses fans following GU's win against LMU on Saturday, March 2, 2019, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

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