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Gonzaga Women's Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga women

WCC women’s preview: Experienced BYU the team to beat, Gonzaga not far behind

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 29, 2021

The West Coast Conference women’s basketball season begins Thursday night, sort of, and Gonzaga expects to be in the mix.

That’s no surprise – the Zags have won 16 of the past 17 regular-season titles.

They’re not the favorites this year, however.

That burden falls on BYU, which returned every major player from a squad that finished second in the WCC and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Cougars have lived up to the hype, going 10-1 in the nonconference season and sitting at 24th in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga is 9-3 and ranked 30th in NET, but lacks the kind of quality win that could come in handy should it fail to get an automatic bid to the NCAAs

The Zags had their chances, with losses to Stanford, Washington State and UC Davis coming by a combined nine points.

“I wish we were 10-2 or 11-1, but we just want to keep getting better, and our team is getting better,” coach Lisa Fortier said after the Zags ended the nonconference season with an easy win at Eastern Washington.

Fortier said that improvement doesn’t always happen evenly and steadily, but she expects GU to rise to the occasion once conference action begins.

For the Zags, that was supposed to happened Thursday night in the Kennel against San Francisco, but that was scrapped by a COVID-19 outbreak that left Fortier without a viable lineup.

GU isn’t alone; as of Wednesday, the only WCC game still on Thursday’s schedule is Saint Mary’s at Santa Clara.

Three games are still on the slate for Saturday, but GU’s date at Loyola Marymount also has been scrapped.

As it stands, the Zags will open WCC play Jan. 6 at Portland.

While they’re not officially the favorites, GU will still be the main target for other teams, Fortier said.

The Zags’ target is BYU, ranked 18th and offering at least two chances for a quality win. The teams meet Feb. 5 in Spokane and two weeks later in Provo, Utah.

“We get them twice, maybe three times,” said Fortier, already considering a matchup in the WCC Tournament final in Las Vegas. “That’s going to help us.”

The Zags will probably need to win two of those resume-boosting matchups – and avoid any bad losses against the rest of the WCC – to gain an at-large bid.

BYU returns all five starters from last year. WCC Co-Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales is averaging 19.1 points, but BYU has other solid options.

Senior Paisley Harding (15.6 ppg) scored 33 in the Cougars’ win at Utah. Grad senior Tegan Graham set a school record with 10 3-pointers and scored 30 points in the Cougars’ lone loss, in overtime at Oklahoma; and sophomore forward Lauren Gustin averages 12.7 rebounds to ranked second in the nation.

“I’m really excited about where we are,” veteran Cougars coach Jeff Judkins said this week.

The rest of the conference schedule has plenty of pitfalls, starting with GU’s game at Portland next week.

The Pilots are 10-2, winning eight of their past nine games, and carry a No. 58 NET ranking.

Portland has won four in a row and is off to its best start since 1997.

Its strength of schedule ranks only 290th, but Portland’s losses are to Stanford and Oregon.

Junior forward Alex Fowler averages 16.7 points and eight rebounds.

San Diego (8-4) is the only other WCC team ranked in the top 100 in NET, coming in at No. 80.

The Toreros return all five starters from last year, and are led by senior guard Steph Gorman (11.5 ppg and shooting 43% from long range.)

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