For the eighth year in a row, the Gonzaga women are once again the favorites to win their conference based on the WCC preseason coaches poll. But fulfilling preseason expectations can be a tricky thing, and as the Zags discovered in the closing weeks of last season, ill-timed injuries and bad luck can derail the best of teams.
So, which WCC teams pose the biggest threats to Gonzaga this season?
Similar to the men’s side, BYU is once again fielding a talented group that will challenge Gonzaga’s reign in the conference. The Zags swept the Cougars last season after losing a pair of games to them the year prior. However, that was without BYU star Shaylee Gonzales who missed all of last season due to an ACL injury which resulted in the Cougars dropping five games in the WCC. Gonzales led BYU in scoring (17 ppg) and assists (4.1 apg) as a freshman in 2018-19 while coming in second on the team in rebounding (5.6 rpg). BYU will have an experienced group, as Gonzales is aided by a veteran squad that added grad transfer Tegan Graham who started for two years at Colgate.
BYU isn’t the only team lurking in the conference, as Portland will hope to build on their surprise WCC Tournament Championship after they upset Gonzaga in a crazy semifinal game en route to knocking off San Diego in the final in another overtime thriller. Despite the win, the Pilots were deprived of a NCAA Tournament appearance due to COVID, which should have been the program’s first since 1997, and will certainly be hoping to recreate the magic. Portland lost starting guard Kate Andersen to graduation, but returns the rest of its squad led by senior guard Maddie Muhlheim.
The biggest hurdle for the Pilots may not be Gonzaga, however, but rather Oregon Governor Kate Brown who ordered Portland and Portland State to halt basketball activity this week due to COVID—one week before the season starts—despite granting exemptions to Oregon and Oregon State’s teams to continue practicing.
Gov. Kate Brown’s office has instructed University of Portland and Portland State to shut down men/women’s basketball operations.— John Canzano (@johncanzanobft) November 18, 2020
They will be allowed to resume practices when exemption is processed. That is on the governor’s desk now, I’m told. UP/PSU have games on Nov. 25.
Portland has apparently experienced a lot of difficulty over the last few weeks, based on this story from John Canzano, so it will be interesting to see how that has impacted their preparations for the season.
Finally, the San Diego Toreros should once again finish in the top third of the conference after tying for second in the WCC regular season standings with BYU. The Toreros made it to the WCC Tournament Final in March before losing a heartbreaker to the Pilots. The Toreros lost a trio of seniors, but can lean on guards Myah Pace and Jordyn Edwards, both of whom played heavy minutes last year. Pace was named to the All-WCC First Team last season as a junior, and has been a steady contributor for the entirety of her collegiate career. Edwards made the All-WCC Second Team in 2019-20, her first year in the WCC after transferring from Colorado State.