The Zags outlasted the persistent Gaels 83-78 to make it to the Monday final.
LAS VEGAS — For a half Saturday in a West Coast Conference women’s tournament basketball game, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga staged something akin — in pace, at least — to the NBA All-Star Game.
There proved to be method in the madness of Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves, and the Zags outlasted the persistent Gaels 83-78 to make it to the Monday final against Brigham Young.
“They were making everything in the first half, but I kept telling the team, ‘We’re used to this pace,’ ” said Graves. “I kept wanting them to push it, push it, push it. I thought they were going to tire at some point, and I think they did.”
It was 49-47, Saint Mary’s, at halftime, as both teams made shots at a terrific clip. Saint Mary’s hit 11 of its first 16 shots and was at 65.5 percent by intermission. The Zags buried 13 of their first 19 attempts and were at 57.6 percent at the break.
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Two factors turned it for Gonzaga, now 26-4 and ranked 20th in the coaches poll. First, Graves instructed them to switch on all ball screens in the second half, and it helped limit the Gaels to 29 second-half points.
“They started to roll all their posts on our ‘littles’ down to the block, and as soon as you start to do that, you get yourself out of rhythm,” Graves said.
Second, Carli Rosenthal, a sturdy 6-foot-3 freshman center from Coeur d’Alene who was banging hard with Gonzaga, drew her fourth foul at 15:21. She sat less than two minutes, and incurred her fifth at 12:17 with the Gaels ahead 64-62.
“Gonzaga can rack up points very fast,” said Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas, referring to the quick reinsertion of Rosenthal. “I didn’t want to take the chance of them beating us inside over and over again.”
Ultimately, that’s what happened. Kayla Standish, a 6-3 senior from Ellensburg, had 31 points, and 6-1 classmate Katelan Redmon added 20.
“Kayla can kind of do it all,” said Redmon, “hit elbow jumpers, take it off the dribble or pound it inside.”
The Gaels (21-10) had played Gonzaga tough twice earlier, beating the Zags in Spokane to end a 34-game WCC regular-season GU win streak. This was no different until Gonzaga strung together seven straight points, ignited by a three from Kansas State transfer Taelor Karr, to break a 70-all tie.
Gonzaga figures to be safe when NCAA bids go out, and will host games at the McCarthey Athletic Center if selected.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org