SPOKANE – The Gonzaga University women’s basketball team clinched the West Coast Conference regular-season title outright with a 75-65 victory over Saint Mary’s College Thursday evening at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The regular-season championship is an unprecedented 10th-straight for the Bulldogs, who earned their first title in the streak in 2004-05.
“The league has never been as good as it is this year, so to do what we did is incredible,” explained Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves of the team clinching the title “And to do it 10 years in a row — it never gets old, it’s never easy and it’s always rewarding. This team really deserved it because we fought for it tonight. Saint Mary’s was a tough matchup for us, and they made us earn it.”
The 22nd ranked Zags, who will be the No. 1 seed in the league tournament next week, improved their overall record to 25-4 on the year and are now 15-2 in the WCC with the 10-point victory. The Gaels fell to 20-8 overall and 10-7 in the WCC.
Gonzaga had four players break double-digits in the win and nine total players score. Senior Haiden Palmer led the way with 19 points – 12 coming in the first half, while junior Keani Albanez chipped in 14 points, nailing four important 3-pointers and two free throws. Senior Jazmine Redmon and redshirt sophomore Shaniqua Nilles each added 10 points apiece.
Redmon also added a game-high six assists, with no turnovers, in 30 minutes of play, while Palmer grabbed six rebounds, made three steals, blocked two shots and had two assists in 36 minutes of action.
“We are so blessed to have great seniors, especially senior guards,” stated Graves. “Haiden and Jaz are just terrific. Those two kids – and Stephanie [Golden] are the heart and soul of our team. They are the last link to our Elite Eight team and they show the young kids the way. They really have been great teachers.”
The senior trio of Danielle Mauldin, Kate Gaze and Jackie Nared combined for 51 of Saint Mary’s 65 points. Mauldin had a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds – both game-highs. Gaze added 17 points and Nared – the league leading scorer coming into the game at 21.7 per game – fouled out with 14.
“They have three great players — all seniors, thank goodness — they are really good,” said Graves of the Gaels top players. “They are just difficult to stop. I think, relatively speaking, we did a great job defensively holding them 15 below their average tonight. It was a good defensive effort, but it’s just hard to keep them completely down.”
Saint Mary’s held the advantage and momentum for the first 12 minutes of the contest.
Gonzaga’s first lead in the opening half – other than the opening bucket by redshirt Shelby Cheslek – came with 8:48 remaining in the first 20 minutes after a jumper by junior Danielle Walter capped off a 7-0 run to give the Zags the 17-15 lead.
The advantage was short-lived though as Nared drained a 3-pointer and hit one-of-two free throws to give the Gaels back the edge at 19-17 with 7:52 to play.
A long-ball by junior Lindsay Sherbert started a 10-0 surge and gave Gonzaga the lead again and for good. The Bulldogs, with the momentum, battled its way to a 35-29 halftime advantage.
Two and a half minutes into the final half, the Zags lead broke into double-digits. It was Redmon who began the half aggressive, making a layup and draining a 3-pointer. Junior Sunny Greinacher put the advantage at 11 points, hitting a jumper with 17:34 to play.
Saint Mary’s continued to battle, getting within six points of Gonzaga at 46-40 with 12:39 remaining but Redmon converted an old fashion 3-point play after sinking a circus-like scoop shot to halt the Gaels. That play started an 11-2 run by the Zags that gave them their largest lead of the contest – 15 points at 57-42 with 9:29 remaining.
The Gaels once again sliced the Zags edge to single-digits, this time seven points – at 68-61 – with 1:55 left on the clock. The free throw line sealed the deal for Gonzaga though as it hit 7-of-10 free throws in the final 1:31.
The Bulldogs finished the game hitting 45.2 percent (28-of-62) from the field and were 61.1 percent (11-of-18) at the charity stripe. Gonzaga was credited with 18 assists on the 28 baskets, scored 22 points off the Gaels miscues and had the bench come up big, scoring 26 points.
Gonzaga now closes out the regular season hosting the University of the Pacific Saturday at 2 p.m. The game is also Senior Day and will honor Palmer, Redmon and Stephanie Golden.