In what has been a great collection of talent across women’s college basketball, Gonzaga played three games, going 1-2 in the tournament. The finals was as expected, with top-15 teams Stanford and Ohio State facing off. Stanford led the first 35 minutes, but thanks to star guard Kelsey Mitchell scoring a season-high 37 points, Ohio State came back to tie it in regulation before winning in overtime 92-84.
Here’s a recap of the Zag’s three games:
Belmont: 71-63 Loss
The Bruins is to the Ohio Valley Conference as the Zags are to the West Coast Conference. The women led the first quarter 15-11 before getting outscored in the second, 25-13. Belmont led the rest of the game, but the Zags made a 11-0 run in the fourth led by Jill Barta to cut the deficit to just four points. Ultimately, it was Sally McCabe’s 21 points and eight boards to lead Belmont to the first round win.
This was a completely winnable game. The Zags out-shot the Bruins 41.4%-34.9%. The bench for Gonzaga scored 15 points to Belmont’s two. However, there were two key areas that doomed the women. First off, Gonzaga went just 3/8 from the free throw line to Belmont’s 19/22. But the real issue is you know what.... three-point shooting. The women shot just 2/18 from deep compared to 8/30 for the opposition.
What kept them in the game was a historical performance by Jill Barta. She scored 21 points, including seven in the final minutes to keep the Zags with a fighting shot. But more importantly, her 22 rebounds was a school record for the women (a few were offensive rebounds off our missed threes). She’s already going into the history books as an all-time great, but now there’s a stat she can claim.
Kent State: 71-57 Win
Before I start off saying anything about the game, let me just say Gonzaga shot 7/18 from three-point range!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes folks that’s 38.9%, but compared to the previous games, this was like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on a hot streak.
Now to the game. Gonzaga blitzed out to a 32-15 lead after the first quarter. It was the highest scoring ten minutes of the season for them. Kent State did cut the lead a bit after winning the next 20 minutes, but the defense for the Zags stepped in and limited Kent State to just 11 in the final ten minutes.
Gonzaga won just about every important category, including limited the Flash to just 12 points in the paint. They also doubled them up on turnovers, 20-10. Laura Stockton was unable to play after getting injured in the first game, so Jessie Loera stepped in and had six points and eight assists. Chandler Smith had an all-around game, with 11 points, six boards and four dimes. Zykera Rice had 10 points and was tremendous defensively.
Of course the star once again was Barta, whose 30 points is a season-high for her and the team. She got it going early and there was nothing the smaller Kent State could do to stop her.
DePaul 88-71 Loss
The Blue Demons lost a surprising opening round game to Florida Gulf Coast to set them up in the losers bracket. Gonzaga still had an opportunity to get a big win, and were up to the task out the gate with a 24-23 lead after one. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there, with DePaul shooting 58% for the game. They shot a Florida Gators-like 17/30 from three-point range, and outscored the Zags 25-11 in points off turnovers despite the number of mistakes being roughly the same.
Barta by her standards, was awful with just 10 points and eight rebounds (kidding of course). The reigning Big East champs had the athletes and players to deal with Barta, and slowed her down as much as she could. It was Chandler Smith who stepped up on offense, scoring a season-high 19 points. Jill Townsend had the best performance by a Zag freshman this season, scoring 11 points off the bench.
Stockton wasn’t able to play for the second day in a row, but the 6/21 shooting from deep is the second best performance by Gonzaga from distance. Loera is the better shooter, but Stockton is the better overall player. That’s something to look at in the future.
All in all there were some positives and negatives to take away from. The Zags defense were there, but quarters of giving up points have hurt them in their losses. Smith has become the second best offensive player on the team behind Barta, and needs to be consist in the future. As far as shooting, I’m a proponent of just continuing to do so until the slump is broken, as giving Barta room to operate is the most important thing.
Gonzaga will finally play a home game Thursday night against Eastern Washington, who just recently beat Saint Mary’s a week ago. Even though the Zags are 2-3, they’ll still the best team in the WCC, as all the other teams have suffered losses as well.