By Wednesday afternoon, all was well with the Gonzaga women’s basketball program.
The West Coast Conference Tournament trophy was sitting in coach Lisa Fortier’s office, the players were back in class.
And the stomach virus that ravaged the Zags before Tuesday’s title game? Thankfully, that stayed in Vegas.
“Everyone is better now,” Fortier said.
Wednesday offered Fortier a chance to look back and ahead, a sweet spot afforded few teams during a season often defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Selection Monday is just around the corner, and the 23-3 Zags are guaranteed at least a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio. That means the favorite’s role in the first round, then a 50-50 game in the second round before things get daunting.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Fortier said of the NCAAs.
The latest bracket from Charlie Crème of ESPN has the Zags as a No. 5 seed against Rice, then potentially facing Tennessee in the second round.
College Sports Madness offers a similar scenario: GU as a No. 5, taking on Bowling Green and then West Virginia before a potential rematch against South Carolina in the Sweet 16.
But those visions felt almost pie-in-the-sky after what GU went through this week.
The Zags came into the Orleans Arena on the strength of a fifth consecutive WCC regular-season title, then handled Santa Clara in the semifinals on Monday.
A few hours later, they were enjoying a late lunch and checking out the other semifinal between BYU and USF.
“That’s when people started feeling bad,” Fortier said. “We’re still not exactly sure what caused it, but every few hours we would lose another one.”
A few hours before the title game, Fortier and her staff had lost four players for sure, with starters Jill Townsend and Cierra Walker looking questionable at best and LeeAnne Wirth definitely out.
“We thought we might have to go with eight players,” Fortier said.
But Townsend and Walker are gamers, and they played as much as they could stomach.
“Every minute they gave us was precious,” Fortier said.
Utterly disjointed on offense, the Zags stayed in the game with defense before clawing back in the fourth quarter and winning 43-42 on Townsend’s last-second shot.
“We were resilient,” Fortier said.
As the Zags found their range, they also found a few heroes. Freshman Yvonne Ejim got her first collegiate start, and by game’s end “she was the best player in the game,” Fortier said.
Eliza Hollingsworth and Kaylynne Truong also had solid games.
“We have so much depth,” Fortier said with a nod to next year and a rebuild that suddenly doesn’t look quite so daunting.
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