LAS VEGAS – For the second year in a row, the Gonzaga women must find a way to bounce back from adversity.
Not that anyone would think to compare this to the tragedy of last year’s West Coast Conference Tournament, when Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend were lost to injury and head coach Lisa Fortier lost her younger brother.
Yet the tears still flowed after the Zags’ improbable 70-69 defeat at the hands of Portland in the WCC semifinals Monday afternoon – for the lost opportunities, the what-ifs of a one-point loss and the fact that seniors Katie Campbell and Jessie Loera won’t have a chance to raise the trophy on Tuesday.
“They don’t get to do this again,” Fortier said in the hallway at the Orleans Arena.
A moment later, Campbell hobbled past on crutches, her college career cut short last month in the Kennel.
Until Monday, GU eyes had never been this red.
A few feet away, Townsend sat against a wall, red-eyed and lost in her thoughts as she awaited her turn with the media.
A year ago, she didn’t even make it to the end of game. However, Townsend recovered from that leg injury to become this year’s conference MVP, a storybook tale that’s still in search of an even happier ending.
That may come in the NCAAs, wherever they’re played.
“There’s really no option but to learn from this,” said Townsend, who didn’t finish this game either. Seconds after returning to the court late in the game, she picked up her fifth foul and went back to the bench shaking her head the whole time.
She wasn’t the only one. Starting guard Kayleigh Truong found the bench for a chunk of the second quarter, just as Portland began to climb out of a 20-point hole.
Later it was LeeAnne Wirth’s turn to sit. She too fouled out – another what-if in a game of so many.
On top of that, GU played erratically on defense, lost its shooting touch and got only two field goals from its bench in the second half.
“I think that we’re going to learn a lot more from this than had we lost by 20,” said Jenn Wirth, who led the Zags with 21 points and eight rebounds.
“I know that’s hard to hear that, but it’s true,” she said. “We need to learn from this game.”
A few moments later, Loera emerged from the locker room, trying to come to grips with the whole situation.
Few have more at stake on Selection Monday than the Loera family of Moses Lake, who turned out by the dozens on Senior Day three weeks ago.
Odds are they’ll do so again for March Madness, especially if it begins in the Kennel.
And if it doesn’t?
“We just have to be ready wherever we go,” Loera said.
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