LAS VEGAS, Nev. - No. 1 seeded Gonzaga University women's basketball team earned a 62-43 victory over No. 4 seed BYU in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Championship Saturday afternoon at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. The Bulldogs will now play in their seventh-straight championship game, against No. 2 seed University of San Diego Monday at 1 p.m.
"I'm so proud of this team," stated Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves after the victory. "I don't think we have every played such a physically tough game. We were out there being tough mentally; we were in it the whole time with the right mindset."
The Bulldogs used a well-rounded offense to capture the 19-point victory as 10 different players scored. Gonzaga was led by redshirt sophomore center Shelby Cheslek who posted a career-tying high 16 points, hitting 6-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 free throws. She also grabbed a game-high eight boards. Sophomore forward Sunny Greinacher added 10 points, eight of which came in the second half, and freshman Kiara Kudron came off the bench to chip in a career-high eight.
The Cougars leading scorers coming into the game - Haley Steed and Jennifer Hamson, who were averaging 10.3 points and 10.8 points per game, respectively - were held to 13 points combined and went 5-of-17 from the field.
BYU was led by Morgan Bailey who came off the bench to score 12 points.
"With BYU, you have to pick your poison," explained Graves of how to defend the Cougars. "They have arguably one of the best guards in the nation, a post that demands attention, and they shoot remarkably well. Today we tried to make them score two at a time and we did a pretty good job. We made them earn every shot."
It was a battle back and forth early in the first half with three ties in the first seven minutes but ultimately Gonzaga held the lead for the full forty minutes.
After an old fashion 3-point play by BYU's Keilani Unga tied the contest at 8-8 with 12:55 left in the opening half, the Bulldogs rattled off an 8-2 run to capture a six-point advantage with 6:03 on the clock. Four different Zag players scored a bucket, including junior Stephanie Golden who nailed a jumper to put the score at 16-10.
A 3-pointer by the Cougars Stephanie Seaborn started a 7-2 run that got BYU to within one point of the lead at 18-17.
It was all Gonzaga after that spurt as the Zags rattled off a 12-2 spurt that closed out the half and gave them the 30-19 advantage. Cheslek started things off with a layup, followed by two free throws, while Kudron came off the bench to score six of GU's final eight points.
BYU was held to 0-of-5 shooting during this stretch and turned the ball over once. The Cougars only points came on two free throws by Steed with 49 seconds left before intermission. All-in-all, BYU was held without a field goal for the final 3:52.
Greinacher started the second half with a lay-in followed by a much needed 3-pointer by junior guard Haiden Palmer, which forced BYU to call a timeout two minutes into the final period with the Zags up 16 at 35-19.
Three minutes later Gonzaga's edge was 18 points with the help Cheslek who scored back-to-back layups to put the score at 42-24.
The closest the Cougars got to the Bulldogs was 12 points after a small 8-2 run had put the score at 44-32 with 11:39 remaining.
A jumper by Palmer stopped BYU's momentum and started a massive 15-4 run that blew the game open and gave Gonzaga its largest lead of the game - 23 points at 59-36 - with 2:40 left on the clock.
The Bulldogs ended the game shooting 37.7 percent (23-of-61) from the field and hit 70.0 percent from the charity stripe (14-of-20). The Zags forced BYU to turn the ball over 22 times, was credited with 13 steals, and scored 12 points off the miscues.
The Cougars finished the game hitting 32.0 percent (16-of-50) from the floor, including just 23.1 percent (6-of-26) in the first half.