Jill Barta scored 32 points as the Zags beat San Diego 79-71 in the championship game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas. Gonzaga gets an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga went into the women’s basketball season with plenty of question marks, with new players on the roster and returning players filling new roles.
The regular season ended the way it did a year ago: with a West Coast Conference championship.
On Tuesday, the Zags repeated as WCC tournament champions as Jill Barta scored 32 points and made six free throws in the final 43 seconds of a 79-71 victory over San Diego.
“We just worked out to our goals and we had people step up all year long,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.
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Gonzaga (27-5) shut San Diego down in the third quarter on its way to a 16-point lead, but had trouble breaking the Toreros’ pressing and trapping defense in the closing minutes. San Diego (17-15) cut the lead to 73-66 with a 9-0 run to make things interesting, but Gonzaga held on to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Zykera Rice scored 17 points and the Zags made all 16 of their free throws to earn their eighth WCC tournament title and fourth in six years.
Barta, the WCC player of the year, was 10 for 10 on free throws and 10 for 19 from the field.
“She’s a big-game player,” Fortier said. “I will tell you, she’s hyper competitive and wants to win.”
San Diego shot 9 of 27 in the second half and went 1 for 5 from three-point range overall to see its upset NCAA tournament bid come to an end.
Maya Hood scored 23 points and Sydney Williams had 20 for the Toreros.
“We got down a little too much,” San Diego coach Cindy Fisher said. “I was thinking about using the full trap too early and then we would run out of gas. But then we used it. They fought, and they fought, and gave us a chance of getting right back in it.”
San Diego was a surprise finalist, knocking off No. 3 seed Brigham Young in its opener and seventh-seeded Pacific in the semifinals.
Gonzaga swept both regular-season meetings, rolling 63-44 in San Diego but needing a late three-pointer from Laura Stockton to hold off the Toreros 58-54 in Spokane.
• Gabby Williams scored 19 points to lead the top-ranked Connecticut women to a 70-54 victory over No. 19 South Florida in the American Athletic Conference tournament final in Uncasville, Conn.
UConn improved to 101-0 all time in games against conference opponents.
Tournament most valuable player Azura Stevens added 13 points for the Huskies (32-0).
• Eastern Washington forward Bogdan Bliznyuk was voted Big Sky Conference men’s player of the year by coaches in the conference.
Senior Bliznyuk is a graduate of Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way.
In Big Sky games, Bliznyuk was third in scoring (22.2 points per game), second in assists (5.6) and fifth in rebounding (7.6). He led the conference in free-throw accuracy at 98.7 percent.
• The 68 teams in the NCAA men’s tournament will be revealed in the first 10 minutes of the two-hour selection show Sunday on TBS.
CBS and Turner executives said the entire bracket will be revealed within the first 45 minutes of the show before a live audience in Atlanta.
In 2016, CBS extended the selection show to two hours and was criticized by many fans for taking too long to unveil the complete bracket.