Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Champs stay focused: With WCC title in hand, 16th-ranked Gonzaga women look to finish strong

What a statement Gonzaga made clinching the West Coast Conference championship with three games remaining.

It shows how dominating the 16th-ranked Zags have been and how weak the WCC has been. The latter probably reflects Gonzaga’s lack of respect in postseason projections.

Gonzaga (26-2 overall, 13-0 WCC) plays the first of two final regular-season home games Thursday when San Francisco (11-14, 7-5) visits McCarthey Athletic Center. Tip is at 6 p.m.

Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier was pleased with how her team avoided a hiccup last week.

“The last two games we had to work through a little more adversity than we did at the beginning of conference,” Fortier said.

Gonzaga faces its final WCC road game Saturday at Pepperdine before finishing with Senior Night on Wednesday against Portland.

Fortier had a special thank you to the four graduate starters who returned this season.

“Those seniors who came back for their fifth year,” she said. “They came back to do this and more. This was one of their goals.”

Gonzaga wants to finish the regular season strongly and continue to make a statement at the WCC Tournament and earn the highest seed possible to the NCAA Tournament.

The Zags travel to last-place Pepperdine (5-21, 1-12) for their final road WCC game on Saturday.

The chase for second in the WCC has turned into a three-team battle.

Portland (17-10, 9-4) and Santa Clara (21-7, 9-4) are tied for second and San Francisco is a game back.

• Fortier was named ESPN Coach of the Week on Tuesday after the Zags clinched the WCC title with wins over Saint Mary’s and Pacific last week. She collected her 250th career win at Gonzaga earlier this season. Her record is 259-61 (.809).

Fortier was added to another coach of the year watch list Wednesday. She was named to the 2024 Werner Leader Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year late season watch list.

The Zags clinched their 19th conference title and eighth under Fortier last weekend.

Ready, set, rematch

The rematch everyone in the Big Sky has been waiting for – at least those in Cheney – occurs Thursday.

That’s when Northern Arizona (19-7, 11-2) visits Eastern Washington (21-5, 11-2). Tipoff at Reese Court is at 6 p.m.

Thanks to some help from Sacramento State, EWU and NAU are tied atop the Big Sky, so the rematch could decide the regular-season title.

Sacramento State (5-20, 4-10) went to NAU last week and upset the Lumberjacks 82-66. EWU opened Big Sky play in December at Sacramento State, winning 60-33.

“Sac State reminds us a lot of our first year here,” EWU third-year coach Joddie Gleason said. “They’re young and start a bunch of freshmen. They’re getting better and better and are playing pretty well right now. They’ll be a lot better the end of the season than when we played them the first week.”

EWU will have four conference games left after Thursday, including a two-game road trip to Montana next week. NAU has the least-difficult remaining conference schedule. It finishes with games against Idaho State, Weber State and Northern Colorado after visiting Idaho on Saturday.

The winner Thursday doesn’t lock up the conference title, but it’s a big step toward securing the top seed to the Big Sky Tournament.

The Lumberjacks knocked off the Eagles 89-81 in overtime in the first meeting in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Jan. 27. EWU rallied from a 15-point deficit to force overtime.

The Eagles got solid games at NAU out of its leaders, Aaliyah Alexander and Jamie Loera. Alexander led with 31 points and Loera had 20.

Gleason said one of the keys Thursday will be EWU’s start. When the Eagles have struggled, they’ve usually had poor starts.

“NAU is a tough team to figure out your game plan for,” Gleason said. “Sophie Glancey is a very good post player. They have an elite post player and a bunch of good shooters around her. So it’s about our defense locking in.”

It might not be the last time the teams face off.

“Hopefully, it’s not the last time we see them because it means we have advanced in the tournament,” Gleason said. “I’m sure we’ll see them again.”

• Loera was named Big Sky Player of the Week for the second time this season. The Moses Lake native led the Eagles to wins at Idaho State and Weber State. She averaged 18 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.0 steals in the two games.

Better late than never

When Washington State’s marketing department planned a Bobblehead Night to honor the Cougars’ all-time best player, Charlisse Leger-Walker, it didn’t know she’d be lost for the rest of the season.

The Cougars (16-11, 5-9) will celebrate her career Friday at Beasley Coliseum when ninth-ranked Oregon State (21-4, 10-4) visits. Tip is at 7.

The first 1,400 fans will receive bobbleheads on Fan Appreciation Night.

“I’m just grateful for our marketing department, for this university to put that out,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said. “There’s nobody more deserving having that piece of history. I need to have a few extras. I’m proud of how she’s responded to the injury. She’s a giver in every imaginable way. She’s continuing to try and help us in every possible way.”

Oregon State is in a three-way tie for second with USC and Colorado.

The Cougars wrap up their home conference slate Sunday against last-place Oregon (11-16, 2-12). WSU concludes regular-season play next week with road games at Utah and Colorado.

Ethridge figures WSU must get at least three more wins to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

That would mean going 2-2 in the last four regular-season games and getting one victory over a ranked team. She said the Cougars would need a win in the Pac-12 Tournament.

“If I’m just a guessing person we need three more wins regardless, including the Pac-(12 Tournament),” Ethridge said in a news conference Wednesday. “At the very least we have to split these next four games, probably. We’re playing for a lot. This team can get better and can play at a higher level.”