It really was the ultimate gut check.
Sick to her stomach and her team trailing by a point in a championship game with less than a second to play, Jill Townsend had the ball in her hands.
She had no time to think — about past disappointments in Las Vegas or the fact that she hadn’t scored a point all afternoon.
Townsend simply let it fly. With six-tenths of a second left, she didn’t have any choice.
The ball was still in the air as the buzzer sounded, but it found the bottom of the net to give the Gonzaga women a 43-42 win over BYU in the West Coast Conference title game at the Orleans Arena.
Then Townsend ran down the court — no small feat for someone who could barely get out of bed Tuesday morning thanks to a bad case of food poisoning.
There she was mobbed by her teammates — once after the shot, then again at midcourt after officials confirmed that the shot left her hand in time.
“It’s something I will remember the rest of my life,” Townsend said in the postgame news conference.
Joined by Coach Lisa Fortier, she wore a ball cap. It was embellished with twine from the net, a souvenir denied the Zags on two previous trips to Vegas.
“Vegas hadn’t been kind to us,” said Townsend, who broke her leg in the semifinals two years ago and fell short again last year.
“And then last night,” Townsend said. “We’re thinking ‘could anything else happen to us?'”
Sometime after Monday’s win over Santa Clara, the Zags (23-3) were ravaged by gastroenteritis. At least 6 players were affected, including starters Townsend, Cierra Walker and LeeAnne Wirth, the latter unable even to suit up.
Fortier and her staff juggled the lineup, giving first-ever career starts to freshman forward Yvonne Ejim and sophomore guard Kaylynne Truong and only the second to junior Melody Kempton.
By tipoff, starting forward LeeAnne Wirth was too sick to suit up, while Townsend and starting guard Cierra Walker were too ill to start.
Then things got even worse. Townsend needed to bags of intravenous fluid to even make it to warmups.
“I wanted to put some minutes on the court, but we weren’t sure how many minutes,” Townsend said.
She entered the game midway through the first quarter, only to exit 2 minutes later and “looking peaked,” according to broadcasters.
The Zags then produced the worst half of offense in Fortier’s career as head coach. Missing 12 of their first 16 shots, they looked lost and disconnected.
But they stayed in the game with defense, and after the first quarter trailed only 10-8 against a full-strength BYU squad that probably needed a win to make the NCAA tournament field.
“Gonzaga’s tough,” BYU Coach Jeff Judkins said after the game. “We knew that if they came and showed up they would give it their best effort.”
That didn’t happen right away. By halftime the Zags had committed 15 turnovers and were shooting 23% from the floor (5 for 29).
Yet they trailed only 22-13.
“Our mindset was that hey, “We’re down only 9 — we can’t get any worse.”
GU played the Cougars even in the third quarter, making some shots but watching BYU do the same. Going into the fourth, BYU still led by nine, 36-27.
Ejim rose to the occasion early in the fourth quarter, with 2 layins and a pair of foul shots. With 7 minutes left, the BYU lead was down to 36-33.
BYU got some breathing room on a layin from Shaylee Gonzalez. That made it 40-33 with 3:35 left, but redshirt freshman Eliza Hollingsworth shocked everyone by draining a three-pointer at the top of the arc.
Gonzales gave BYU a 42-39 advantage with 44 seconds left. Twelve seconds later, Jenn Wirth shrugged off a 1-for-10 shooting effort by making two foul shots.
After a pair of timeouts, BYU’s Paisley Harding missed a layin with 8 seconds left and Wirth snagged the rebound.
Kayleigh Truong missed a potential game-winning layin with 2 seconds left, but Ejim grabbed the rebound with six-tenths of a second left to set up Townsend’s game-winner.