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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

With BYU behind it, Gonzaga women’s basketball turns attention to talented Saint Mary’s squad

Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend,  center, battles against Saint Mary’s during the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal on Monday, March 11, 2019, at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Apparently, that rivalry with BYU is last week’s news.

But now that the Gonzaga women have dispatched the Cougars, it’s time for the real rivalry game: Saint Mary’s, which visits the McCarthey Center on Thursday night in a game that will put the winner alone atop the West Coast Conference standings.

Coach Lisa Fortier put the rivalries in perspective after practice Tuesday, five days after the Zags won by 12 at BYU as payback for a trio of losses last year.

“BYU had our number, so they became the team that we were interested in disliking,” said Fortier, choosing her words carefully.

“But historically, Saint Mary’s has been a huge rivalry for us and the men’s team and several other sports,” Fortier said.

And what’s a rivalry without a big game? Ranked 16th this week in the Associated Press poll, Gonzaga is 14-1 overall and 3-0 in the WCC. The only team ahead of them is Saint Mary’s (9-6, 4-0).

Just like Gonzaga last week at BYU, the Gaels would like some payback after losing three last year to GU. The toughest loss came in the semifinals of the WCC Tournament, when Zykera Rice hit a layin at the double-overtime buzzer to end the Gaels’ NCAA dreams.

Rice has graduated, but so have Megan McKay and Sydney Raggio, physical forwards who dominated in the paint. Now the Gaels are often playing with five guards and lots of 3-point shots.

Saint Mary’s is averaging 10.4 successful 3-point shots per game, which ranks fourth in Division 1.

“We’re going to have to get our hands up to take that away,” Fortier said.

Saint Mary’s averages a conference-leading 76.4 points a game and its 45.7% shooting is second only to GU’s 46.6%.

“It’s going to be a totally different game, so we have to play our game and not succumb to what they like to do,” GU forward Melody Kempton said.

The Gaels have plenty of weapons. Emily Codding, a 6-foot guard/forward, averages 16.6 points and almost nine boards. Guards Sam Simons (15.9 ppg) and Madeline Holland (13.7) also average in double figures.

“They’re very efficient on offense,” Fortier said.

Last week in the WCC, no one was as efficient as Saint Mary’s sophomore guard Taycee Wedin, the reigning WCC Player of the week. Wedin only took 15 shots in wins against Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, but she made 11 of them, and 10 of 13 from 3-point range.

On just 15 shots, Wedin scored 38 points, shooting 73.3% on the week.

The Zags, however, have excelled on defense. Last week, they shut down BYU’s 3-point shooters; two days later they overcame a slew of turnovers by outrebounding San Diego 40-19.

“Our offense has struggled from time to time,” Fortier said. “But our defense, we did a good job of taking away strengths and a nice job of playing team defense.”

The Zags counter with Katie Campbell, whose 48.5% long-range shooting ranks fourth in Division 1. More important, the Zags have balance: Through three conference games, seven Zags are averaging 4.7 points or better, but none has more than Jill Townsend’s 12 ppg.

“It’s reassuring that we’re not relying on just one person,” Kempton said.