I’ll be honest: I wrote a game story in the third quarter talking about how the seniors on this Gonzaga roster may never want to come back to Las Vegas again after what they’ve been through the last three years. Yvonne Ejim, Eliza Hollinsgworth, and Jill Townsend made me delete the entire thing.
After sitting the majority of the game with the stomach flu and scoring zero points, Jill Townsend entered the game with 0.6 seconds left and Gonzaga down by a point. She picked the perfect time to score.
In one of the grittiest games in Gonzaga history, they exorcised so many Las Vegas demons and won their first West Coast Conference Tournament championship since 2018. The emotions came flowing out on the court, with the team mobbing Townsend in celebration and Coach Lisa Fortier dropping to her knees with misty eyes. It was an incredible moment that I’m sure fans would have desperately loved to see in person.
Before the game, it was announced that some Gonzaga players and coaches were being affected by gastroenteritis (not Covid related at all). Senior stars Jill Townsend and Cierra Walker did not start the game and were limited to short bursts. LeeAnne Wirth did not play at all.
Late in the first quarter, BYU’s leading shot blocker Sara Hamson went down with an ankle injury. When all was said and done, it was 10-8 BYU after a very choppy opening stanza with two teams trying to find their footing. Gonzaga would not score again for 11 minutes. To their credit, they held their own defensively. They kept BYU to just 22 first half points, which is incredibly impressive against BYU’s high-powered guards. The problem is that they shot 17 percent (5-for-29) in the first 20 minutes. Abby O’Conner’s three with 25 seconds to go was their first basket of the second quarter. Between BYU’s size, Gonzaga’s lack of energy, and the lineups they were forced to play, it led to an ugly 22-13 halftime score.
Somehow, someway, Gonzaga clawed back. Freshman Yvonne Ejim, who played a season-high in minutes because of Wirth’s absence, was huge in the fourth quarter. Her back-to-back buckets cut the lead to three with seven minutes to go. After BYU extended it back to five, Gonzaga had four different chances to score after three offensive rebounds, but could not capitalize. Enter another freshman: Eliza Hollingsworth. The little-used forward, who has been injured most of the season, hit a huge three with 3:14 to go to cut the lead to four. Then Ejim went back to work with a lay-up and a free throw to cut the lead to one with 90 seconds remaining. That set the stage for the final possession, where Ejim, once again made a huge play, forcing a jump ball on an offensive rebound with 0.6 seconds remaining.
Ejim was the only Zag to finish in double figures, with 13 points and nine rebounds. Jenn Wirth struggled mightily, going 1-for-10 from the field, but hit two big free throws to stay within a point late in the game. Townsend was 0-for-5 until the final play and played sparingly, sporting a bandage on her arm, where she likely received some fluids prior to the game.
Gonzaga’s defense was unbelievable. They held Shaylee Gonzales to just 6-of-17 shooting. BYU only hit two three-pointers. The only reason Gonzaga had a chance in this thing was because their defense allowed them to stick around long enough to make some big baskets.
Gonzaga will now wait to see where they are seeded on Selection Monday. They are right on the border of that four seed, but it’s possible they will end up as a five seed depending on what happens with the rest of the conference tournaments. BYU is squarely on the bubble and will be sweating it out like crazy the next six days.