It takes a team to win a championship, but sometimes it takes a big game from the right player at the right time to get them there.
The Gonzaga women got plenty of those games on the way to a 28-4 record and the best regular season in program history. They came in games big and small, from veterans and newcomers alike, from long range and down in the paint.
Here are the 10 most memorable individual efforts of the season:
10. Laura Stockton at Pacific, Jan. 31: In a tight game on the road against one of the better teams in the West Coast Conference, Stockton filled the stat line with one of her best games of the year: a game-high 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. With the Zags clinging to a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Stockton’s offensive board and layin helped the Zags pull away for a 63-51 win.
9. Chandler Smith at Missouri State, Dec. 16: A newcomer to the national rankings, the Zags were ripe for an upset against the 1-6 Bears. But instead of suffering an embarrassing loss, Gonzaga held on for a 70-67 road win, thanks partly to Smith, who put in one of the longest stints – 34 minutes – by any player this year. The senior from Brewster, Washington, had a team-high 15 points, 10 boards and also got the winning point on a free throw with 26 seconds left.
8. Jill Townsend at Eastern Washington, Nov. 11: In the second game of the year and the first road game in nearby Cheney, the Zags were in trouble from the opening tip. They trailed 12-5 after one quarter and were up just three entering the fourth quarter. Townsend was the difference in the 63-51 win. Establishing herself as the Zags’ most versatile player off the bench, Townsend racked up a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, plus three blocks and four steals – all in just 19 minutes.
7. Zykera Rice vs. Rutgers, Nov. 23: The Zags needed to rally after losing the day before to top-ranked Notre Dame in the Vancouver Showcase. They beat the Scarlet Knights 57-40 mostly with defense, but Rice led the way to a crucial win over a team that later reached the national rankings. Rice finished with 16 points, five rebounds and a block.
6. Rice vs. Pacific, Jan. 5: Rice’s dominance was on full display at the turn of the New Year, as she won back-to-back Player of the Week honors from the WCC because of games like this. In just 21 minutes on the court against Pacific, Rice scored 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting from the field. She also had seven boards to help the Zags erase a double-digit first-quarter deficit and beat the Tigers 88-65.
5. Stockton at UNLV, Nov. 17: This was sweet revenge, times two. A year earlier, the Rebels won by two in the Kennel as Stockton missed a potential winning 3-pointer. This time, Stockton had one of her best games of the year – in 35 minutes, she filled the stat sheet with six points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals to help GU take a 70-59 nonconference win.
4. Smith vs. Saint Mary’s, Jan. 3: The first conference game of the year in the Kennel featured the only WCC team to beat the Zags the previous season. GU didn’t forget. “There were signs in the locker room today,” Smith said after the game. “We loved it, but we hated it, too.” Saint Mary’s threatened to do it again in a game that went down to the wire. The difference was Smith, who put in her best overall game of the year with 17 points (on 7-for-12 shooting) and six boards. She also played 33 minutes and hit a crucial 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes to lead GU to a 74-62 win.
3. LeeAnne Wirth vs. Loyola Marymount, March 2: It was Senior Day at the Kennel, and the Zags didn’t want to share the WCC regular-season title with BYU. “I know we all wanted to go out and play our hardest for our seniors,” Wirth said after a game that wasn’t decided until the last 3 minutes. “It was our chance to give back to them.” Wirth made it happen with the best game of her career – 13 points and 13 rebounds while playing a season-high 28 minutes. Moments later, the Zags cut down the nets after a 68-58 win and raised the trophy while a sellout crowd of 6,000 said thanks to Rice, Smith and Stockton.
2. Katie Campbell vs. Stanford, Dec. 2: Despite a 7-1 record, the Zags had a lot of questions to answer as No. 8 Stanford visited the Kennel for the biggest home game of the season. The biggest uncertainty was 3-point shooting, especially after the graduation of Emma Stach and departure of Jill Barta. The player on the spot was transfer Campbell – only with some big outside shots would Stanford be compelled to loosen its defense on the Zags’ forwards. Campbell did just that by making 5 of 6 shots from long range to help beat the Cardinal 79-73. She also had seven rebounds to help GU win the battle on the boards, 38-24.
1. Rice vs. Saint Mary’s, March 11: With her team down a point to Saint Mary’s in the WCC semifinals in Las Vegas, Rice took a pass from Campbell at the top of the key with 4 seconds left in the second overtime. The rest happened almost in slow motion, but too fast for the Gaels’ defenders. Rice blew past three of them, rolling the ball off her fingers, off the rim and into the net as time expired to give the Zags a remarkable 78-77 win and a spot in the title game. “I’ve never made a game-winner before,” said Rice, who had eight rebounds and a game-high 21 points. “Our coaches set up an amazing play, and it was cool that my teammates put me in a position to make a shot like that.”
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