As first-place showdowns go, this one didn’t live up to expectations.
Then again, the Gonzaga women couldn’t have been more thrilled with their resounding 75-43 win over Portland on Saturday at the Kennel.
In one utterly dominating performance, the Zags seized sole possession of first place in the West Coast Conference and left the rest of the conference wondering how they can compete on the glass.
They also buried a painful postseason loss last year to the Pilots – well, almost.
“I don’t know if they ever go away altogether,” Zags coach Lisa Fortier said, referring to tough losses in general and the Zags’ one-point loss to the Pilots in last year’s WCC Tournament in particular.
“But I just told them I was trying to stay in the present, and that’s what we try to get them to do as well,” Fortier said.
The 21st-ranked Zags, laser-focused all afternoon, heeded the advice and never let up. That was important, because they blew an early 20-0 lead in the tournament loss to the Pilots.
No one needed reminding.
“That motivation is always in the back of your head,” said senior forward Jenn Wirth, who channeled that energy into her fourth double-double in the past five games: 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Gonzaga (10-2, 5-0) took a double-digit lead 5 minutes in and didn’t let Portland back in the game.
“It was our most complete game of the season,” Fortier said of GU’s 22nd consecutive home win.
Cierra Walker got the fun started on GU’s first possession with a 3-pointer from the wing. Seconds later, the half-court trap led to a steal by Walker and her fastbreak pass to Jenn Wirth for an easy layin.
Thirty-two seconds into the game, GU was up 5-0 and Portland coach Michael Meek wanted a timeout.
It didn’t help. Wirth added two more buckets and LeeAnne Wirth fed Townsend for a layin that made it 11-0. Portland finally got on the board with 4½ minutes left in the quarter, but Walker answered instantly with a 3-pointer to make it 14-3.
The Pilots (6-4, 3-1) finally got into double digits on a pair of free throws from Alex Fowler, who was held to 11 points – five below her average.
Trailing 36-17 at halftime, Portland began to find its range, hitting 6 of 13 shots in the third quarter.
But GU did better: 10 for 15 to take an insurmountable 66-33 lead into the fourth.
GU shot almost 50% (29 for 60). Portland made 15 of 45 shots – the fewest attempts by a GU opponent this year thanks to an emerging trend: the Zags’ utter dominance on the boards.
Saturday’s margin was 43-21 – a plus-22 that ranks only third best in a still-young season. For the year, GU is outrebounding opponents by an average of 13 boards a game.
“I think that we’re kind of on a roll right now, but I don’t want to ignore the fact that my teammates are super hardworking,” Jenn Wirth said. “They’re in the gym after practice every single day and before practice. I think it just is a testament to our hard work paying off.”
Portland was 4 of 17 from 3-point range and shot 33% overall. The Pilots had 21 turnovers that were turned into 26 points.
LeeAnne Wirth (12 points, seven rebounds) was the only other GU player in double figures. Walker and Jill Townsend each scored eight.
Gonzaga is back in action Thursday at Santa Clara, which because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara Country is playing its home games in nearby Santa Cruz, California. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.
Note: Gonzaga’s home game against San Diego on Jan. 21 has been postponed as a result of a postive COVID-19 test within the USD program. No makeup date has been scheduled.
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