The Zags make earliest exit in WCC tournament since 2006 and will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years.

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LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga made its earliest exit from the WCC women’s basketball tournament since 2006, falling to Santa Clara 59-58 in the opening round Thursday at the Orleans Arena.

The fifth-seeded Zags let a five-point halftime lead slip away quickly in the third quarter. No. 4 Santa Clara (23-7) repelled a couple of GU comebacks in the fourth quarter to advance to Monday’s semifinals against the winner of Friday’s BYU-Pepperdine game.

Gonzaga (18-13) hopes its season will continue in the WNIT.

The Zags, who split with the Broncos in the regular season, struggled against Santa Clara’s aggressive, trapping zone, committing 20 turnovers and shooting just 31 percent from the field, 26 percent in the second half.

Santa Clara opened the third quarter on a 13-2 run with junior forward Lori Parkinson contributing five points. GU’s sophomore guard Emma Stach nailed a pair of three-pointers late in the quarter, trimming SCU’s lead to 46-44.

The Zags pulled even at 52 on freshman Jill Barta’s jumper – the first field goal of the game for the team’s leading scorer – and at 54 on a pair of Laura Stockton free throws with 3:20 remaining.

Barta’s three-point play tied it at 58 with 39.7 seconds left. Marie Bertholdt made 1 of 2 free throws with 14.9 seconds left to give Santa Clara a one-point lead. Stockton’s jumper just before the buzzer was off target.

Bertholdt led Santa Clara with 20 points and Parkinson scored 19 before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

Other games

• Pepperdine never trailed as the Waves beat Pacific 81-72. Freshmen Paige Fecske (21 points) and Yasmine Robinson-Bacote (18 points) led the Waves (7-23).

Pepperdine moves on to face top-seeded BYU at noon Friday.

Andee Velasco had 23 points to lead Loyola Marymount past Portland, 85-72. Sophie Taylor had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Lions (11-19).

Corissa Turley had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Pilots (3-27).

Taylor Proctor made a three-pointer with three seconds left in regulation and San Francisco (19-11) went on for an 84-80 overtime victory against San Diego (23-7), which got 33 points from Malina Hood.