Winning the game was easy.
So was cutting down the nets, something the Gonzaga seniors have done every year since they arrived in Spokane.
But those precious moments in between? Not at all.
The Zags had just taken care of Loyola Marymount 77-39 on Saturday to wrap up their fourth consecutive West Coast Conference title.
The ladders were already in place on the Kennel floor when the seniors got their chance to share what the past four years have meant.
Given all the time in the world, Jenn Wirth lasted about 5 seconds before the tears began to fall.
The others – her sister LeeAnne, Louise Forsyth, Gillian Barfield and Jill Townsend – managed to get through about 20 seconds each.
The last to go was Townsend, who was cheered by dozens of family who had driven 3 hours from Okanogan, Washington.
Townsend thanked the GU coaches “for taking a chance on me.” She also gave credit to the seniors who’d come before, then turned to her teammates and said, “You guys make me a better person and make me laugh.”
Almost on cue, everyone did just that.
Celebrating a championship in a near-empty gym is a surreal experience, but no more so than the months that led up to it.
“It has been a difficult year,” coach Lisa Fortier told the fans, gathered in small clutches in the upper decks. “But we have all of the right people here, because all of you have helped us survive.”
The Zags did more than that, of course. While COVID-19 wreaked havoc with many teams, GU stayed healthy and stayed dominant against the rest of the conference.
Ranked 21st in the Associated Poll, the Zags are 21-3 overall and 16-1 in the WCC heading into the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
GU will play a semifinal game March 8 at the Orleans Arena.
No fans will be allowed there, noted Fortier, who quickly recovered to say, “Hopefully, we’ll see you in San Antonio.”
The NCAA Tournament is still three weeks away. Depending on what happens in Vegas and the rest of the country, the Zags could be seeded anywhere from No. 4 to 7.
No one was talking about that on Saturday.
“I want to talk about how much I’ve enjoyed coaching your daughters,” Fortier said to the parents in the crowd. “And seniors, I just want you to know how much I love you.”
The game was merely the opening act.
The Bulldogs were coming off a record-setting 95-49 win Thursday over Pepperdine.
The 46-point margin was the program’s biggest under Fortier over a WCC opponent, breaking the mark of 39 set three years earlier against Portland.
The game began much like the WCC opener on Dec. 28 in Los Angeles, when the Zags had to rally for a 65-62 win.
Struggling against the Lions’ height inside, GU missed nine of its first 13 shots. The Zags fell behind 6-3, then took a 7-6 lead and didn’t trail again.
LMU trailed 14-12 after the first quarter, then got within one, 16-15, on a 3-pointer from Jasmine Jones with 9 minutes, 16 seconds left in the second quarter.
Incredibly, the Lions (5-18, 4-14) didn’t score for the next 12:21.
GU went on a 26-0 run, bookended by another 3 from Jones with 6:54 left in the third.
By the end of the third quarter, LMU was 7 for 38 from the field and trailed 57-20.
LMU’s 37 points were the fewest by a GU opponent since early in the 2015-16 season, when the Zags beat Air Force 88-35.
Jenn Wirth led the way with 19 points and six rebounds, helping GU own the glass 45-20. She also made 8 of 9 shots from the field.
Townsend had 18 points, and LeeAnne Wirth added seven points, six boards and four steals.
As the minutes wound down, the twins wrapped up their Kennel careers in poetic fashion.
Capping a fastbreak, LeeAnne found Jenn in the paint for an easy layup. Less than a minute later, Jenn returned the favor.
Then they left the floor for the last time, together.
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