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With home date unlikely, Zag women still must retain focus in WCC semifinal

UPDATED: Sun., March 10, 2019, 9:18 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Chandler Smith (30) takes a shot over Saint Mary's guard Jasmine Forcadilla (3) during their Jan. 3 meeting. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Chandler Smith (30) takes a shot over Saint Mary's guard Jasmine Forcadilla (3) during their Jan. 3 meeting. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – The Gonzaga women didn’t come here to party.

Saturday night on the Strip was a time for family reunions, ice cream and early bedtimes.

“It’s more of a business trip,” senior Chandler Smith said Sunday before practice at the Orleans Arena, where the Zags hope to win a third straight West Coast Conference tournament title.

As with any business trip, there’s a bottom line: If the Zags aren’t lighting up the town, they’ll have a better chance to wreak some havoc with Saint Mary’s in the semifinals on Monday at noon.

As her players stretched, coach Lisa Fortier smiled

“They seem very focused,” she said.

That’s always a good thing, and sometimes a rare quality for a team in Gonzaga’s situation.

After perhaps the best regular season in program history, Fortier’s team is 27-3 and ranked 13th in RPI, a resume that will get them a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in Vegas.

But it’s also probably not good enough to earn a coveted No. 4 seed and the chance to host games in the first and second rounds.

Like it or not, the Zags appear to be slotted into a five seed and destined to play next week at some ag-tech campus in Ames, Iowa; College Station, Texas; or Corvallis, Oregon.

In other words, motivation this week must come from within.

“As a coaching staff we’re thinking about it a little bit,” Fortier said. “I’m sure our players know more about it too, but we’re not talking to them a ton about it.

“It’s just that we want them to play their very best this week.”

Judging by what Saint Mary’s did to Loyola Marymount in Saturday’s quarterfinals, the Zags will need to bring their best.

A week after losing starting guard Jasmine Forcadilla to a season-ending ACL injury, the fourth-seeded Gaels (20-10) rolled the Lions 70-38.

At the time, the Zags were wrapping up practice back in Spokane.

“I saw the game on my computer,” Fortier said. “They have plenty of people who can dribble and defensively they were really good.”

Gonzaga had its hands full in both meetings this year with Saint Mary’s, especially the Jan. 3 encounter at the Kennel.

GU came into that game with a program-best 13-1 start, but was clinging to a two-point lead in the fourth quarter before pulling away to win 74-62.

In the rematch on Feb. 2 in Moraga, California, the Zags won 66-52 and held Saint Mary’s to 33 percent shooting while forcing 21 turnovers.

Four Zags finished in double figures, led by 14 points from Jenn Wirth. Jill Townsend added 12 points while Katie Campbell and LeeAnne Wirth added 10 each.

“I loved the way we flew around, causing turnovers and wreaking havoc,” Fortier said.

Three players average double-figures for the Gaels, including first-team All-WCC performers Sydney Raggio (12.8 ppg), Megan McKay (12.7) and Sam Simmons (11.2).

Gonzaga has won six of the last seven meetings but that won’t matter on Monday.

“We’re here for a job,” Townsend said.

In the second semifinal, third-seeded Pepperdine (20-10) will face No. 2 seed BYU (23-6). The Cougars own a pair of wins over Gonzaga, but are ranked 33rd in RPI and sitting on the bubble for an at-large berth should they fall short in Las Vegas.

The title game is set for Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Orleans Arena.

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