SPOKANE, Wash. - The Gonzaga University women's basketball team defeated BYU 74-59 Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center in an important West Coast Conference game. The Zags, who came into the game with a loss in league already; dealt the Cougars their first loss in conference. Gonzaga is now 14-5 overall and 4-1 in the WCC, while BYU is 12-5 overall and 3-1 in conference.
Saint Mary's College, who defeated Gonzaga Jan. 10 by three points, fell to the University of San Diego 73-70 Thursday - its first loss in league - to make a three-way tie for first in the West Coast Conference.
"In the end today is just one game, but it was an important win for a lot of reasons," explained Bulldog head coach Kelly Graves after the victory. "To defeat one of the better teams in the conference the way we did definitely helped our psyche."
Gonzaga had four of its five starters finish in double-figure points and was led by the tandem post play of sophomore Sunny Greinacher and redshirt freshman Shelby Cheslek. Greinacher tallied a career-high 17 points, while Cheslek also recorded a career-high in points with 16. She added eight boards, five assists and three blocks.
Cheslek did not only excel on the floor with her offensive output she also held BYU's leading scorer Jennifer Hamson to two points on 1-of-4 shooting. Hamson, a 6-7 center, was averaging 13.0 points per game heading into the contest with the Bulldogs.
"Sunny and Shelby were huge for us," stated Graves. "They did a great job; not only in shutting down arguable their best player, but also for scoring. We haven't had those kind of inside baskets much at all this year. To do it tonight against a really good front line like BYU, I think shows that we are getting better."
Greinacher and Cheslek combined for 15-of-22 from the floor and 20 of Gonzaga's 26 points in the paint.
Also reaching double-digits was senior Taelor Karr with 15 and junior Haiden Palmer with 11.
Gonzaga came out of the gates flying, running out to a 10-0 advantage three minutes into the contest. The Bulldogs hit 5-of-7 in the opening three minutes and forced the Cougars to turn the ball over three times and miss the two shots they attempted.
BYU's first points came at the 14:33 mark on two made free throws by Haley Steed to cut GU's edge to 10-2 and its first field goal did not come until the 13:42 mark when Steed drained the first of four 3-pointers on the night to make GU's advantage 15-5.
The Bulldogs kept their lead in double-digits for the remainder of the half and went into the locker room with a first-half high 18-point advantage after sophomore Keani Albanez nailed a 3-pointer to put the score at 37-19.
Gonzaga finished the stanza hitting 51.7 percent (15-of-29) from the field and forced BYU to turn the ball over 11 times and scored 11 points off those miscues.
A 13-4 run to open the second half gave the Zags their largest lead of the contest at 27 points - 50-23 - with 16:25 left. Greinacher and Cheslek combined for nine of the 13 points.
BYU mounted a very impressive comeback though. After Greinahcer hit a jumper to give Gonzaga its 27 point lead, the Cougars rattled off a 17-0 run to slice the Zags edge to just 10 points with 11:27 to play. Steed was the catalyst for BYU draining two 3-pointers and assisting on two other baskets.
Gonzaga finally stopped the run with a layup by Cheslek but a 6-3 spurt, capped off by another deep Steed 3-pointer, had GU's advantage in single digits - 55-46 - for the first time since three minutes into the game.
Sharpshooter Meghan Winters turned the tides with a 3-pointer of her own on the next Gonzaga possession which pushed the lead back to 12 points.
GU got their advantage to 17 with 4:43 to play after junior Jazmine Redmon hit a 3-pointer and Greinacher nailed a jumper.
"I told the team that I was really proud of them for the way that they handled BYU's comeback," said Graves. "They made it a tight ballgame down the stretch and we responded. Good teams always makes run, and BYU is a good team and made a run, but good teams also answer and we answered it tonight."
The closest the Cougars got down the stretch was 12 points.
BYU was led by Steed and Morgan Bailey who both scored 18 points.
Gonzaga now travels to California to battle San Diego on Saturday. The Bulldogs third game in six days is set for 2 p.m.