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Gonzaga women get off to fast start, rout Saint Mary’s 74-49 in WCC clash

Gonzaga forwards LeeAnne Wirth,  center, and  Jenn Wirth,  right, laugh between possessions with guard Jessie Loera  during the first half Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Surely, the coaches will find a few things to nitpick from Gonzaga’s resounding 74-49 win over Saint Mary’s on Thursday night.

They’ll point to those early back-to-back 3-pointers from the Gaels, cold shooting by GU late in the first half and some lackluster defense in the fourth quarter that already caught the eye of head coach Lisa Fortier.

“I told them, ‘I’m not ever going to stop coaching you, and I’m not crazy, because that was a bad play,’ ” Fortier said, referring to an incident early in the fourth quarter.

By then, the 16th-ranked Zags were protecting a 30-point lead, one they’d built with their best overall performance of the season.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as Saint Mary’s came into the Kennel with a perfect record in the West Coast Conference. Now the Gaels (4-1) are looking up at the Zags, who are alone in first place at 4-0 after putting up some incredible numbers in front of an appreciative crowd of 5,611 at the Kennel.

Most of them came on the defensive end in the first half, which ended with GU up 39-12. That’s right, 12 points for the Gaels, who came in averaging a conference-high 76 points a game.

“I was surprised,” said GU guard Katie Campbell, who had 10 points by intermission. “We thought this was going to be a really difficult game, and we had a really strong game plan for them.

“We scouted them really well,” added Campbell, who finished with 14 points to share team honors with LeeAnne Wirth.

Jill Townsend added 11 points and Jenn Wirth 10 to lead a balanced offense that shot 47% and also had 23 assists.

But it was defense that carried the Zags to a 15-1 record after knocking off their biggest league rival.

GU took a 7-0 lead, but Saint Mary’s (9-6 overall) came back with a pair of 3s to make it 8-8.

GU ramped up the defensive intensity, and Saint Mary’s never responded. The 12 points were the product of 4-for-27 shooting and a 27-12 rebounding advantage for GU.

Even Fortier was surprised by those numbers.

“They’re a really good team,” Fortier said. “You can say they were off a little bit, but we contributed to that.

“We were really focused on defense. We were turning our heads in the right direction, and they threw a couple of balls to us because we were right there.”

GU quickly broke away from the 8-all tie. Two layups from Melody Kempton and another from LeeAnne Wirth made it 14-8, and Campbell took a steal the other way for a layin.

Townsend drained a 3-pointer and Jenn Wirth added a layup to give GU a 21-10 lead after the first quarter.

By then, the Zags had five steals, which fueled the offense.

“You can’t transition without stops,” said Fortier, warming to the topic of defense.

“Early on (this season), we were slicing and dicing opponents with our offense, but the last three games we’ve really been able to rely on our defense as well.”

That’s been especially true in the second quarter of the last three games against BYU, San Diego and Saint Mary’s, who’ve scored a combined 14 points in the second period.

Things got out of hand in the second quarter as GU held Saint Mary’s to 0-for-15 shooting.

Gonzaga is home Saturday against Pacific, which is 10-5 overall and 3-1 in the WCC after winning 77-73 at Portland on Thursday night.