After a near-miss Sunday against the top-ranked team in the nation, Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier didn’t want to discuss moral victories.
However, Fortier didn’t mind talking about her team’s courage in opening the season against a South Carolina squad that already had two games under its belt.
“We’re tough and we’re not afraid of any opponent,” Fortier said.
And had the Zags made a few more free throws and grabbed a couple of more rebounds, Fortier and her players would have been celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history.
Instead, they lost a 79-72 decision in a game that was even closer than that, in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The tournament ends Monday with GU taking on South Dakota at noon.
Trailing for most of the game, the No. 21 Zags grabbed a 62-60 lead with 6½ minutes left on back-to-back 3-pointers from Kayleigh Truong and Jill Townsend.
GU took its last lead, 66-65, on Melody Kempton’s layin with 4:20 left, but stumbled down the stretch and South Carolina capitalized.
With 3:37 left and the Zags leading by that same score, AnaMaria Virjoghe missed an 8-footer.
Twelve seconds later and down 67-66, the Zags seemed poised to retake the lead when Truong was fouled while attempting a 3-point shot.
She missed all three foul shots.
That capped a nightmarish day at the line for GU, which finished 5 for 13. The Zags also sent South Carolina to the line 41 times, and the Gamecocks responded by making 25.
“That definitely wasn’t the game plan, but they’re so quick and big inside,” said senior guard Jill Townsend, who scored 15 points and had a career-high seven assists but also picked up four fouls.
“That’s their game plan, is drive, draw fouls, get to the rim,” Townsend said.
“We knew that coming in, that that was going to be a key to our success. Unfortunately, we didn’t turn that around the way we wanted to.”
Worse, they lost leading scorer Jenn Wirth (16 points on 7-for-9 shooting) to disqualification with 2½ minutes left and the Zags trailing 68-66.
A minute later, the Gamecock lead was 74-66. GU cut it to four on a 3-pointer from Cierra Walker with 54 seconds left, but South Carolina made six foul shots, putting the game away.
Walker, in her first game as a Zag, had 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting from long range.
“We hate losing – it’s never fun,” Jenn Wirth said.
“But this is something that we are going to be able to use going forward.”
GU shot 52% (29 for 55) from the field to South Carolina’s 43% (26 for 54) and made 9 of 19 shots from long range.
However, the Bulldogs were outrebounded 36-29 overall and 15-8 on the offensive glass. As a result, they gave up 18 second-chance points.
The Gamecocks were led by Destanni Henderson with 23 points.
Zia Cooke added 16 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Gonzaga held reigning National Freshman of the Year Aliyah Boston to 10 points and five rebounds.
Gonzaga had the better of the stats in the first half, despite trailing 38-34.
The Zags shot 56% from the field to 42% for the Gamecocks, but were only 2 for 9 from long range.
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