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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

No. 17 Gonzaga women overcome slow start, beat Pacific to clinch West Coast Conference championship

By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review

Momentum is a curious thing in any sport.

For the Gonzaga women’s basketball team Saturday afternoon, it was like flipping a switch. For just the third time this season, the Zags trailed at halftime. But Gonzaga took care of things quickly in the third quarter, going from trailing 46-45 to leading 75-60 heading into the fourth quarter.

In so doing, the Zags clinched the West Coast Conference championship, topping Pacific 91-78 in Stockton, California.

Gonzaga learned about 10 minutes after its game that it clinched the conference title thanks to Santa Clara beating Portland 66-58.

The Zags passed out T-shirts and hats celebrating the feat.

“It’s really, really hard to do,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said of winning the conference title “I hope that our players never get tired of doing it. And I hope that our fans never get tired of doing it, nor expect that we’re going to do it every year because it’s such a grind. I know this year we won a lot of games handily, but it’s a slog and a grind to do it year after year after year. I’m really happy for these guys. They’ve worked very hard. They’ve stayed focused.”

It’s amazing what a difference two weeks make. Gonzaga held Pacific to the lowest amount allowed to a WCC opponent in a 104-39 thumping on Feb. 3. On Saturday, the Tigers accounted for the most points allowed by the Zags in a WCC game.

The Zags went from beating Pacific by 65 points to the 13-point margin Saturday.

The 17th-ranked Bulldogs improved to 26-2 overall, 13-0 in the WCC. It was their 20th straight victory.

Pacific held the lead for 17 minutes and 9 seconds in the first half. The other times Gonzaga trailed at halftime this season were to Louisville and California.

Pacific (14-11, 6-6) played better than Gonzaga in the first half. The Tigers’ biggest lead was 20-11.

The Zags used a 16-0 surge to start the third quarter, and the game took on a different complexion thereafter.

Gonzaga made 12 of 18 shots in the third quarter, 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

“The first time we played Pacific, our defense was dialed in,” Fortier said. “This time our defense was not dialed in. We struggled defensively in a lot of areas. They shot a very high percentage, partially because they’re good players who had a good plan and partially because we didn’t have good focus.”

Fortier talked to the Zags about their struggles at halftime.

“Everything we talked about was our defense,” she said. “We needed to get stops so we could do some things offensively. We needed to get stops so they didn’t have rhythm, momentum and confidence. We started the third quarter off very well. That was the best quarter we had both offensively and defensively and it was what changed the end.”

In the middle of the Zags’ turnaround was senior forward Yvonne Ejim. She finished with a game-high 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field with nine rebounds and four assists.

“Very proud of how the team came back and started the (second) half,” Ejim said. “That third quarter was very important to us and how we want to play basketball and how we want to win a title such as regular-season champs.”

Gonzaga finished 33 of 64 from the field with 28 assists.

GU’s Kaylynne Truong had 15 points and four assists; Kayleigh Truong added 12 points and 10 assists; Eliza Hollingsworth had 12 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals; and Brynna Maxwell, who has made a 3-pointer in all 28 games, had 10 points.

The Zags return home Thursday to face San Francisco.