It’s OK to dream, basketball fans.
In a normal world, the Gonzaga women would be playing a first-round NCAA Tournament game Saturday in Spokane.
As a No. 4 seed, the Bulldogs would have been heavy favorites to move on the second round, where a sold-out Kennel would have attempted to push them into the Sweet 16.
Most likely, that would have meant a trip to the Portland Regional, where GU head coach Lisa Fortier would match wits with her old boss Kelly Graves and the Oregon Ducks.
Instead, Fortier and her husband and assistant coach, Craig, spent Selection Monday choosing lesson plans for their three young children.
On the court and off, the Fortiers are always prepared. During the weekend, Fortier lugged an armful of books home before the libraries closed.
By Tuesday, the game plan was set.
“Craig and I are taking turns, teaching our kids what we can,” said Fortier, who tried to adopt a life-goes-on attitude in a March without the usual Madness.
“I think there is a lot of positive in this,” Fortier said. “It’s good to re-evaluate things … and I’m always craving more time with my children.”
Still, Fortier admits to thinking about the what-ifs, especially after the Zags posted a 28-3 record and a winning percentage that stands as the best in program history.
Assuming the Zags followed form and fell to the Ducks in the Sweet 16, that would have meant a final record of 30-4 – still the best in program history.
But we will never know.
Top Gonzaga women’s basketball seasons
“We had goals,” Fortier said. “This whole year is going to be talked about for a long time, and for a lot of teams it’s going to go down with an asterisk.”
In the Zags’ case, it’s time to change the punctuation to an exclamation mark. Not only did this season’s team post the fewest losses in program history, it went 17-1 in the West Coast Conference, reached program highs in the national rankings as well as the Rating Percentage Index, or RPI.
The Bulldogs climbed as high as No. 11 in the AP poll earlier this season and reached No. 10 in the coaches poll before finishing 13th in both. Their RPI – a key metric used by the NCAA selection committee – ended at 12th.
“It certainly will go down as one of the best seasons,” said Fortier, who has been a part of every big year, either as an assistant or head coach.
Fortier was on the bench during the Courtney Vandersloot era from 2008-11, when the Zags put together a four-year record of 112-26 (81.1%), with three NCAA Tournament appearances and one in the NIT.
This year’s senior class of Jessie Loera and Katie Campbell goes out with a final mark of 110-22, or 83.3%. They also would have reached the NCAAs all four years.
Fortier has been head coach for six years; four of the top-10 seasons by winning percentage have taken place since she succeeded Graves in the spring of 2014.
Most satisfying to Fortier, they did it with consummate balance. No player averaged more than the 12.3 points per game logged by junior wing Jill Townsend, while seven averaged 6.0 points or more.
It was the same story on the glass. Junior forward Jenn Wirth led the way with 6.9 rebounds per game on a team that outrebounded rivals by almost seven per game.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Fortier said late in the regular season.
Even after losing one of their biggest – senior guard Katie Campbell – the Zags won six of their last eight games. Had Campbell stayed healthy, it’s probable they would have run the table, or certainly beaten Portland in the WCC Tournament semifinals.
Again, we will never know what could have been.
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