LAS VEGAS — With one starter out and two more playing through illness, the top-seeded Gonzaga women were able to overcome a slow start and Jill Townsend hit a buzzer-beater to lift the Bulldogs over BYU 43-42 in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game Tuesday afternoon at Orleans Arena.
LeeAnne Wirth wasn’t on Gonzaga’s bench after coming down with gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, at some point in the hours after Monday’s semifinal game against Santa Clara. Two other starters, Townsend and Cierra Walker, dealt with a less severe case of the same condition and still managed to suit up for Gonzaga, but played limited minutes.
Townsend was scoreless and 0 of 5 from the field when the senior from Okanogan caught an inbounds pass with 0.6 seconds remaining, hoisting a 15-foot jumper over her defender before the buzzer sounded. After a short review, officials determined Townsend got her shot off in time, allowing the Zags to secure their first WCC Tournament title in three seasons.
Townsend was later named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and Yvonne Ejim joined her on the All-Tournament team.
Ejim, a freshman from Canada, provided a scoring boost in the in the second half and finished with a season- and career-high 13 points.
The shorthanded Bulldogs opened with two of their lowest-scoring quarters of the season, managing just eight in the first and five in the second, entering halftime with a 22-13 deficit. Prior to that, Gonzaga hadn’t scored single digits in a quarter since a Nov. 30 game against South Dakota.
Gonzaga scored more points in the third quarter (14) than it did in the first two combined, but the Bulldogs still weren’t able to make up any ground on the Cougars, who scored 14 themselves to take a nine-point lead into the final frame.
Ejim scored six consecutive points to open the fourth quarter, trimming GU’s deficit to three points, and later cut BYU’s lead to one point on a free throw with 1:34 left.
When BYU opened up a three-point lead inside the final minute, Jenn Wirth converted two free throws to make it a 42-41 game with :32 left and Paisley Harding missed a layup on the next possession. GU’s Kayleigh Truong couldn’t get a layup to fall with two seconds left, but Ejim pulled down the offensive board, allowing the Bulldogs to take a timeout and set up Townsend’s game-winning shot.
Regardless of Tuesday’s result, the Bulldogs were expected to be a lock to qualify for their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament and will know of their first-round pairing in San Antonio on Monday.
4:45 – Gonzaga 4, BYU 4: The Bulldogs and Cougars are tied at the first media timeout after a poor shooting start to the WCC championship game.
Gonzaga has made just one field goal and is shooting 12.5%. BYU is 2 of 8 from the field.
Melody Kempton and Abby O’Connor each have two points for the Zags.
Gonzaga had to alter its starting lineup after the stomach flu hit the team. Seniors Jill Townsend, LeeAnne Wirth and Cierra Walker are all out of the starting lineup. Townsend has checked in and played two minutes. Walker is on the bench. Jenn Wirth, LeeAnne’s sister, started.
0:00 – BYU 10, Gonzaga 8: Shaylee Gonzales has four points and the Cougars lead the Bulldogs after one quarter.
Neither team is shooting well, with BYU at 26.7% and Gonzaga at 25%.
Jenn Wirth, Kayleigh Truong, Melody Kempton and Abby O’Connor each have two points for the Zags.
Wirth, the WCC co-player of the year, is 1-of-6 shooting. The 6-foot-3 center has no rebounds.
Gonzales, the other co-player of the year, is 2 of 6 from the field.
BYU center Sara Hamson had to leave the game after hurting her left ankle. The 6-7 senior has three blocks.
Gonzaga has committed six turnovers.
4:35 – BYU 19, Gonzaga 8: The Cougars take a 13-0 run into the media timeout and have the Zags on the ropes.
BYU is 4-of-6 shooting this quarter. Gonzaga is 0 of 6 this quarter and is shooting just 18.2% (4 of 22) in the game.
Tegan Graham has five points to lead BYU.
BYU 22, Gonzaga 13: Shaylee Gonzales has seven points and the Cougars lead the short-handed Bulldogs by 9 at halftime.
Gonzaga had to alter its lineup after three starters came down with the stomach flu. Seniors Jill Townsend, Cierra Walker and LeeAnne Wirth were all out to start for the Zags. Townsend and Walker have played, but LeeAnne Wirth has not seen the court. Backup center Anamarie Virjoghe is also out.
Abby O’Connor leads Gonzaga with five points. The Zags are shooting just 17.2% (5 of 29) and have made only one 3-pointer in five attempts.
Jenn Wirth, LeeAnne’s twin sister and the WCC co-player of the year, has four points on 1-of-9 shooting. The 6-foot-3 center has two rebounds and two assists but has been hounded inside by BYU’s size.
6-7 center Sara Hamson has three blocks for the Cougars. She left the game for a short period after injuring her left ankle but returned to score two points.
Gonzaga has committed 12 turnovers. Melody Kempton, starting in place of LeeAnne Wirth, has six.
Tegan Graham has added five points for BYU, which is shooting 32.1% and 2 of 11 from 3-point range. Gonzales, the other co-player of the year, made a 3 right before the halftime buzzer.
Townsend is 0 of 3 shooting. Walker is 0 of 1.
4:08 – BYU 32, Gonzaga 23: The Cougars are keeping the Bulldogs at bay behind 10 points from Paisley Harding.
Harding has six points in the quarter for BYU.
Kaylynne Truong has eight points for Gonzaga after connecting on two 3-pointers and a short jumper.
The Zags are 4-of-10 shooting in the quarter and are now at 23.1% for the game.
Jenn Wirth continues to struggle for GU. She has four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
The Zags have turned the ball over 15 times.
0:00 – BYU 36, Gonzaga 27: Paisley Harding has 12 points and the Cougars take a 9-point lead into the final period.
Gonzaga, shooting just 25.6%, is going to need to get hot in the final 10 minutes to win the WCC championship.
Kaylynne Truong leads GU with eight points. She scored her eight points over a 5-minute span during the third quarter.
Gonzaga has 16 turnovers, which BYU has turned into 10 points. The Cougars have 10 turovers, but Gonzaga only has two points off of them.
5:02 – BYU 38, Gonzaga 33: Freshman Yvonne EJim has all six of Gonzaga’s points in the period and the Zags are back in it.
Ejim is 2-of-3 shooting and has made two free-throws in the quarter.
BYU is just 1-of-4 shooting in the quarter and has committed three turnovers.
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