For as good as the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been in recent years, the WCC Tournament has not been a friendly place. That eerie tradition of catastrophic events continued this season, and before the Zags even tipped off against BYU, it looked like the game was over.
A non-COVID-related stomach bug decimated the Zags starting lineup. LeeAnne Wirth, the third-highest scorer and the second-best rebounder on the team did not play a minute. Jill Townsend, the senior scoring leader, appeared for short bursts of play and spent the rest of the game alternating between the bench, and presumably, the bathroom. Cierra Walker, the team’s best three-point shooter, mustered a few minutes as well. The Zags entered the game essentially missing three-fifths of their starting lineup.
In 2019, the Zags weathered both season-ending injuries to Jill Townsend and Laura Stockton as well as the death of Lisa Fortier’s brother in the time span of 24 hours. Last season, Gonzaga was stunned by the fourth-seeded Portland Pilots in the waning minutes of play. For a team as good as the Zags, unlike their male counterparts, the WCC Tournament has provided plenty of grief in recent years.
And yet, we should have known better than to offer the Bulldogs excuses for a potential loss, because they weren’t having any of it. Townsend’s shot as time expired will go down as one of the all-time buzzer-beaters in Gonzaga history—a Jordan-ian effort in a game with a final score more representative of junior high basketball.
The Zags finished the game shooting a disgusting 28.6 percent from the floor. They turned the ball over 17 times. The offense, missing many of its key playmakers, was largely in shambles. However, if we have learned anything about this Zags squad this season, it is that the defense is elite.
The Cougars struggled to get any sort of coherent offense functioning on a regular level. Shaylee Gonzales scored 13, followed by Paisley Harding’s 12 points, but only five BYU players scored any points in this game. The Cougars shot just 35.3 percent from the floor, most importantly, going 3-fo-9 in the final 10 minutes.
For the Zags, the comeback was a complete team effort. The talented freshman Yvonne Ejim, whose previous career-high 16 minutes came in a 71-52 win over Santa Clara in mid-January, led the Zags with 13 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes. Jenn Wirth, who was swarmed under the post all afternoon, limited to 1-of-10 shooting, muscled her way up to snag a missed Harding layup with 10 seconds left and the Zags down by one, giving Gonzaga one last dying breath.
And all they needed was one breath. This Gonzaga team is not an easy out. Just ask the then-No. 1 ranked University of South Carolina Gamecocks, who largely needed 39 minutes to finally pull off the win. South Dakota State needed a three-pointer with two seconds left in overtime to pull off the win.
Yesterday’s win was one of the grittiest and gutsy wins by any Gonzaga team in the history of the school—full stop. With it, the Zags kicked a few of those WCC Tournament demons to the curb and set the stage for what is truly going to be a spirited run in the NCAA Tournament.