SPOKANE, Wash. - The free line can be a team's savior or nemesis, for the Gonzaga University women's basketball team it was the later. The Bulldogs sank just 3-of-10 in the final six minutes and missed the front end of three one-and-ones in the final 3:22 of a four point game and ultimately fell to Washington State University 57-51 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga had every chance down the stretch to take the lead but couldn't make the crucial free throws while Washington State did.
With the Cougars holding the 52-48 advantage at 3:22 after two made free throws by Mariah Cooks, redshirt freshman Shaniqua Nilles was fouled and sent to the line for the bonus. Nilles unfortunately missed the front end and the Cougars grabbed the defensive rebound.
Both teams missed their next two field goal opportunities, including a jumper by WSU's Tia Presley. Junior Haiden Palmer came down with the defensive rebound on Presley's shot and was fouled one second later but the guard, who was 3-of-6 before stepping up to the free throw line once again, missed the front end of the one-and-one like Nilles.
Washington State couldn't extend its lead though, missing yet another jumper which resulted in sophomore Sunny Greinacher bringing down the rebound and getting fouled with 1:52 left in the game. This time the Zags were in the double-bonus but Greinacher missed both shots.
The dagger came 1:13 later when WSU's Lia Galdeira drained a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to extend the visiting team's lead to 55-48 with 40 ticks left in the game.
Sophomore Keani Albanez was able to hit a 3-pointer of her own with 22 seconds left to cut the lead back to four but two made free throws by Galdeira closed the door on any hope of the Zags making a comeback.
"They [WSU] gave us every chance to stay in the game," explained Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves. "Ultimately we went 7-of-17 from the free throw line. If we make four of the six in a row that we missed there at the end and we lead. It was one of those games where the team that made the fewest mistakes was going to win. Unfortunately we made the most mistakes."
The first half was owned by Gonzaga as it built a nine point lead six minutes into the contest and held a 14-point advantage - 26-12 - with 5:57 remaining before intermission. The Bulldogs went into the locker room with the 32-28 lead and was led by both Palmer and redshirt freshman Shelby Cheslek who tallied eight points each.
Washington State opened the final 20 minutes on a 14-5 run and captured its first lead of the game - one it would not relinquish - since holding a 4-2 edge at the 18:44 mark of the first half on a 3-pointer by Sage Romberg which put the score at 40-37 with 14:00 left in the contest.
The closest Gonzaga got to the lead after Romberg's three was two points on three different occasions, the last coming at the 3:43 mark when Greinacher drained a jumper to put the score at 50-48.
The Bulldogs, who dropped to 10-4 on the year, were led by Palmer with 13 points. Greinacher added eight points and had a game and career-high 10 rebounds.
Washington State (4-7) was led by both Presley and Cooks with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Gonzaga now focuses its attention on West Coast Conference action. The Bulldogs open league play Thursday hosting the University of San Diego at 6 p.m.