March 4, 2007
PORTLAND, Ore. - The Gonzaga University women's basketball team's dream came true this afternoon as it won its first-ever West Coast Conference Tournament title and earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid with a 64-47 victory over Loyola Marymount University Sunday afternoon at the Chiles Center in Portland, Ore.
"First of all I want to congratulate LMU - great program, classy people," said head coach Kelly Graves. "I love coach Wilhoit. You have got to be ready to play when you play LMU because they bring everything. They're so intense and they play so hard and they are well-coached so hats off to them. But I'm really proud of our basketball team. We played a style that we're not always comfortable with - a knock down drag out, tough battle. We showed we can play that way. If you punch us in the nose, we'll punch back. And I'm really proud of these two [Heather Bowman and Stephanie Hawk]. It's not very often that a coach can go to two really good options."
Freshman Heather Bowman, who finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds, two steals and one assist, was named the WCC Most Valuable Player, while senior Stephanie Hawk, who finished with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds, and sophomore Jami Bjorklund were named to the all-tournament team.
"Maybe all those times Hawk yelled at me paid off," said Bowman on being named WCC MVP. "It was unexpected and it felt good, but it felt better to win this tournament."
Gonzaga improved its record to 24-9 overall, while Loyola Marymount closed out the season with a 19-12 overall mark.
Gonzaga was able to go into the locker room with a 34-19 lead by hitting an impressive 69.6 percent (16-of-23) of its shots and limiting Loyola Marymount to just 31.0 percent (9-29) shooting in the first stanza.
Six different players scored in the first half for the Bulldogs, including four who scored five or more points. Hawk led the way scoring nine points, while Bowman chipped in eight and senior Simone Santos added six.
The game was tight for the first eight minutes of the half with three ties and four lead changes, but with the Lions leading 13-12 at the 11:20 mark, the Bulldogs went on a 15-4 run to break open a double-digit lead at 27-17 with 3:36 remaining in the half. The run was capped off by back-to-back jumper by Bjorklund and junior Michelle Elliott.
After a layup by LMU's Jenna Sybesma cut the GU lead to 27-19, Gonzaga buckled down on defense holding the Lions scoreless for the final three minutes, while scoring seven-straight points of its own to hold the 15-point lead at halftime. Elliott drained a three-pointer off an assist by junior Rachel Kane, while Santos hit a jumper and Hawk finished with layup.
Loyola Marymount was able to cut Gonzaga's lead to 10 at 42-32 with 11:12 remaining in the game after Jessica Vargas converted on an old fashion three-point play. The Bulldogs intensified their play though as Hawk hit a layup and Kane drained a three-pointer to give GU back a 47-32 advantage at the 9:35 mark.
The Lions again put a scare into the Bulldogs cutting their lead to nine with 3:09 remaining in the contest. With GU holding a 54-36 lead, LMU went on a 9-0 run to cut its lead into single digits. Amanda Patton started things off with a three-pointer, and Amanda DeCoud followed with two layups book ended between two free throws by Patton.
Gonzaga would not let its dreams slip away though closing out the contest on an 11-2 run to earn the 64-47 victory.
"It was an amazing feeling," said Hawk on winning her first WCC Tournament. "If you win, you get an automatic bid to the tournament. You don't leave yourself up to any chances with the NCAA committee. It's just a great feeling. There are no words to describe it."
Gonzaga will now wait to see where and who it will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament scheduled for the weekend of March 17-20. The tournament selection show is set for Monday, March 12 at 5:00 p.m. PT.