Locked in another tight game against Portland on Thursday night, Melody Kempton was trying to block out some bad memories.
Then Kempton did what she does best – block out – and helped Gonzaga to a 68-59 win over the Pilots at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Two years ago in the West Coast Conference Tournament, the Zags blew a big early lead against the Pilots and lost a heartbreaker at the buzzer.
“I was definitely having some flashbacks,” Kempton said.
But this time, it was Kempton and the Zags who made the big plays down the stretch to improve to 13-4 overall and 4-0 in the West Coast Conference.
One of the biggest came with 6 minutes left and GU clinging to a two-point lead. Point guard Kayleigh Truong had the ball then looked away from Kempton.
“That’s when I knew I was going to get it,” said Kempton, a senior from Post Falls.
Sure enough, Truong found Kempton in stride for an easy layup.
Down 57-55 with just more than 3 minutes left, Pilots missed a 3-pointer that would have given them the lead.
The Zags took over from there, outscoring Portland 11-4 the rest of the way.
Cierra Walker opened the closing rally with her third 3-pointer of the night. Kempton’s offensive board and layin gave GU a 62-55 advantage with just more than a minute to play.
“That gave us some breathing room,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said.
The win also gave GU a sweep of the two-game series, though it unfolded far differently than the Zags’ 76-65 win at Portland on Jan. 6.
In that game, the Pilots were without 6-foot-6 post Lucy Cochrane, one of the top shot-blockers in the nation.
The Zags adjusted just fine, hitting four of their first five shots from long range to go up 16-4.
“It always feels more comfortable when you make your first shot,” said Walker, who finished with a team-high 15 points.
After a timeout, the Pilots responded and trailed only 31-30 at halftime.
Portland (11-4, 1-2) carried that momentum into the third quarter, leading by as many as five.
“They have some really talented individuals, and offensively they’re really hard to stop,” Fortier said. “So it’s all about how you execute your offense.
“For the most part we took pretty good shots, and that made a huge difference.”
GU shot only 22 for 51 from the field, but almost as well (8 for 19) from beyond the arc.
The Zags also had another stellar night at the foul line, making 16 of 18.
Walker also finished well, scoring nine of her points in the fourth quarter.
The Zags also got a big game from Truong, who had five assists along with her 13 points.
Alex Fowler led the Pilots with 19 points and six boards.
Gonzaga outrebounded the Pilots 31-25, with Kempton and Abby O’Connor grabbing seven each.
After two consecutive home games, the Zags are on the road for three in a row beginning Saturday afternoon at Saint Mary’s.
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