LAS VEGAS – That old saw about how tough it is to beat a team three times in one season? The Gonzaga women don’t want to hear it.
Not after what happened here last year, and definitely not after two tough games this season against Portland, their opponent Monday in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals.
Third time definitely wasn’t the charm a year ago, when BYU completed a sweep of the short-handed Zags in a one-sided championship game.
Now the sneaker is on the other foot, and it’s GU’s turn to complete a pair of trifectas at the Orleans Arena.
Do that and the Zags will not only bring home another title, but another weekend of Madness to the Kennel.
“It’s an achievement that this program hasn’t had,” head coach Lisa Fortier said after a recent practice in the Kennel. “It would be tremendous to play here.”
But to bring it home, they’ll have to bring their best in Monday’s noon semifinal against their toughest WCC rival this year, the Portland Pilots.
The Zags are 28-2 overall and runaway winners in the regular season, but nothing came easy this year against the Pilots.
They won’t admit it, but the Zags probably should have lost their WCC opener back on Dec. 29, when Portland – the preseason favorites to finish in last place – came into the Kennel and took a 20-point lead early in the second quarter.
“I don’t think we showed our best today – definitely not – but we showed them that we’re going to be fighters,” guard Jill Townsend said after the game, which saw GU rally for a 73-65 win.
A week ago in Portland, GU trailed 24-23 at intermission but steadily pulled away in the second half for a 56-42 win.
Those games were separated by two months but joined by one common thread: depth – or rather Portland’s lack of it.
In the first meeting, four Pilots logged at least 37 minutes; last week, four starters played 32 or more.
So it’s probably no coincidence GU dominated fourth-quarter scoring in both meetings, 15-4 and 16-7.
To build a program means building depth, and first-year coach Michael Meek has work to do in that area.
So do the Zags, according to Fortier.
“There are some scenarios where we can do better against the zone, and we just need some better execution,” Fortier said.
In the other semifinal, second-seeded San Diego (19-10) will face Pepperdine (16-14). Gonzaga swept both teams this year.
The winners will play for the title on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
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