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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Gonzaga women take dominant rebounding advantage into contest against Santa Clara

Gonzaga forward Jenn Wirth secures one of her 10 rebounds Saturday against Portland. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Pilots 43-21, including 15-4 on the offensive end.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-RE)

If the Santa Clara women are going to move up the West Coast Conference standings, they’re going to have to jump a little higher – especially Thursday night against Gonzaga.

GU travels to the Bay Area this weekend on a nine-game winning streak built largely on depth, defense and utter dominance on the boards: plus-14.5 to rank 10th in Division I.

After last week’s 75-43 demolition of Portland, Zags coach Lisa Fortier tried to put herself in an opposing coach’s sneakers.

“I’ve been in that position and I try to think of what can we do to offset that,” Fortier said. “But anything that’s problematic for the other team … that’s a good thing for us.”

Santa Clara (7-4, 3-2) isn’t bad on the boards – the Broncos are plus-4 for the season after a road sweep of Saint Mary’s and Pacific. But starting forwards Merle Wiehl and Ashlyn Herlihy, both 6-foot-1, are giving up 2 inches and a lot of agility and range to Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth of GU.

Together, the Wirths are averaging 15.3 boards a game, while Jill Townsend and Melody Kempton add another combined 10.

The 20th-ranked Zags are also shooting 44.8% from the field and holding opponents to an average of 56 points – no wonder, then, that they’re 10-2 overall and 5-0 in the WCC.

They’re also on a nine-game winning streak heading into Thursday’s 6 p.m. game at the Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California.

Because of COVID-19 regulations in Santa Clara County, all of SCU’s home contests are played in less-restrictive Santa Cruz County.

SCU’s Lindsey VanAllen, a 5-9 junior, averages 13.2 points per game and is coming off a career-high 25 points last weekend at Pacific.

Gonzaga has won 26 of the past 28 meetings, losing twice to the Broncos’ during GU’s injury-riddled 2015-16 season.