LAS VEGAS – The Gonzaga women are back in their accustomed spot: Playing for a West Coast Conference championship.
They didn’t shoot well Monday against Saint Mary’s, but did a lot of other things admirably to take down the Gaels, 68-60, and win a place opposite BYU for the WCC title at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“Experience is the greatest teacher,” said Kelly Graves, the GU coach. “Yeah, we’ve been here, and obviously, we have expectations. We expect to be playing on the last day.”
In a third straight tough game this season with Saint Mary’s, the Zags shot only 34.9 percent. But they caused 19 Gaels turnovers, and the Gonzaga defense was good enough that Saint Mary’s had a mere three assists on 20 baskets.
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Gonzaga, ranked 18th this week, is in the championship game for the eighth straight season, having won five of the past seven. Earlier, the Zags won a 10th consecutive regular-season title.
A 9-0 run vaulted Gonzaga into the lead for good, 24-17, and then California transfer Lindsay Sherbert, a 6-foot guard, carried the Zags to the break by scoring their last nine points, including a pair of three-pointers.
“For a long time, I’ve felt she’s the key to us,” Graves said. “She can knock down some shots, and she can post up smaller guards. We inverted our offense a little in the first half — put her inside and pulled our posts out.”
It was 37-26 at intermission, but the fourth-seeded Gaels (22-9) responded behind Jackie Nared, a 6-1 senior guard from Portland who leads her team with 21 points per game. With 11:20 left, Nared scored to pull the Gaels to 49-45, but that was her last field goal as Gonzaga used several different defenders on her. She finished with 29 points.
“I thought late in the game, she may have gotten a little tired,” Graves said.
“I didn’t get tired,” said Nared. “I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t fatigue.”
Sherbert was the offensive key to the first half, scoring all of her 14 points, and all-league guard Haiden Palmer was the impetus for Gonzaga after halftime, dropping in 12 of her 16 points.
Palmer and post Sunny Greinacher shot only a combined 8 of 29 from the field, and Graves said, “It’s nice to know we can win a game like this when they’ve having that kind of effort.”
Of Palmer, he added, “I’ve had some great players, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a harder worker, or a more competitive, tough kid.”
Asked how she bounced back from a 1-for-7 first half, Palmer, a transfer from Oregon State, smiled and said, “Keep playing. Keep shooting.”
The Zags, now 28-4, get to do just that in pursuit of another WCC title.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org