The Gonzaga women can’t wait to get back on the court for the West Coast Conference Tournament.
But wait they must, until noon Monday, when they play in the semifinals against an opponent with at least a game or two under its belt.
Meanwhile, the 12th-ranked Zags will go nine days between the regular-season finale at Portland and the WCC semis.
Gonzaga is accustomed to the layoff, which was meant to reward the top two finishers with double byes and give them some rest.
And some rust.
It’s even worse this year; the Portland game will be GU’s only action in a 16-day span.
“I would rather have had the two games last week, but we face this every year,” coach Lisa Fortier said after the 56-42 win over Portland, which gave GU a regular-season record of 28-2 overall and 17-1 in the WCC.
Gonzaga’s next game is Monday at noon at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, where the Zags will play in against an opponent to be determined on Saturday.
On Gonzaga’s side of the bracket, No. 8 seed Santa Clara played No. 9 seed San Francisco on Thursday. The winner plays No. 5 Pacific on Friday, and the winner of that contest will face No. 4 Portland on Saturday.
A chance for payback against BYU, which beat an injury-ravaged GU team for last year’s title, would come in Tuesday’s championship game.
Meanwhile, the Zags will take it relatively easy until they fly into Vegas on Saturday.
“We’re all a little beat-up,” said forward Jenn Wirth, who made the all-WCC team Tuesday after a stellar regular season that saw her average 10.5 points and a team-high 6.9 boards.
“We’re looking at this as a rest and recovery week,” said GU scoring leader and league MVP Jill Townsend (12.2 ppg).
“It’s been a long time since we had a full week,” Townsend said.
The Zags enter the tournament with the confidence borne of winning 25 of their past 26 games, with the loss at Saint Mary’s on Feb. 8 looking increasingly like an outlier despite the loss of senior guard Katie Campbell a week earlier.
For one thing, the Zags are playing superlative defense. Opponents are shooting just 34.8% from the field and 26.9% from long range, which puts GU in the top 20 nationally in both categories.
More important, GU ranks second nationally in scoring defense, giving up an average of just 51.3 ppg.
GU also ranks high in rebound margin (plus-6.9, 30th) and steals (271, 52nd).
They also have balance. Junior guard Townsend leads the Zags in scoring with 12.2 ppg, but ranks only 16th in the conference. Seven Zags average at least 6 points per game.
“We have a bunch of different people who are playing well, and we have enough people that we usually get two or three who are playing well on any given night,” Fortier said after the Portland game.
“That’s been enough in most of the games,” she said.
In addition to the tournament title, Gonzaga is pursuing a chance to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games.
Currently, the Zags are projected to do just that, but a loss in Vegas would probably cost them that chance.
Last year, GU received a No. 5 seed. The Zags beat Little Rock in the first round in Corvallis, Oregon, but lost to host Oregon State, finishing 29-5.
“It’s an achievement (as a top-four seed) that this program hasn’t had,” Fortier said on Tuesday. “It would be tremendous to play here.”
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