Crumpacker: Zags & Toreros to Meet for #WCChoops Title
Championship game Tuesday at high noon on ESPNU
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
Her team safely in the West Coast Conference women’s basketball championship game, Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier took a seat at a press table, munched on a turkey wrap (with mustard) and watched San Diego play Pacific in the second semifinal at the Orleans Arena.
She had to come away impressed with how the Toreros dispatched the Tigers 66-56. USD held Pacific to six measly points in the opening period and utterly dominated the boards with 20 offensive rebounds, to go with 30 defensive boards for an impressive total of 50. All those offensive boards led to second-chance shots as Sydney Williams scored 20 points, Aubrey Ward-El 16 and Myah Pace 10.
“We knew if we got those second-chance opportunities it would help us and slow the game down for them,’’ Williams said. “It helped us a ton.’’
Forward Caroline Buhr was high for the game with 12 rebounds, six of each variety. Maya Hood had nine boards and Ward-El and Pace six each. Call them the Women of Windex for the way they cleaned the glass and kept the quicker Tigers from racing away in transition.
“We obviously emphasize rebounding a lot,’’ USD coach Cindy Fisher said. “I can’t say enough for Caroline and Maya. Rebounding is hard. That’s heart, passion and wanting it. We make it an emphasis. They have to have the heart to go out and do it.’’
Although it was down 14-6 after the first period, Pacific made this a one-point game at halftime, 29-28 in favor of San Diego, as GeAnna Luaulu-Summers and Desire Finnie found their range and shot the Tigers back into contention.
And then the third period happened.
With Williams, Ward-El and Hood hitting their shots, San Diego outscored Pacific 27-18 in the period and took a 56-46 lead going into the final period. All the Toreros had to do was play the Tigers evenly in the final 10 minutes and the victory would be theirs. That’s exactly what happened, each team scoring 10 points in the fourth.
“I can’t say enough about these two next to me,’’ Fisher said, nodding to Ward-El and Williams to her left. “You go as far as your seniors take you. These two are taking us on their backs. I’m happy for all five of our seniors who put so much into the program.’’
Although Ward-El did not shoot well overall (6 of 23), the shots she did make were all timely and had the effect of constantly keeping Pacific at bay, ever yearning, never closing.
“Taking smart shots is something we talk about,’’ Ward-El said. “Good things happen wen we take good shots. Syd had a bunch in those timely moments. I think we did a good job with our shot selection.’’
Tuesday night’s championship game will have special meaning for Williams. She’s from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, well within Gonzaga’s sphere of influence.
“I’m ready to play right now,’’ Williams said, minutes after the semifinal. “I grew up, sadly, a really big Gonzaga fan. When college came, I’m a Torero.’’
Several hours earlier, before she dined on that turkey wrap, Fortier coached Gonzaga to a 65-53 victory in the first semifinal to advance to the title game. The Dons hung around for a half, down 28-26 at the break, and into the third period before the Zags stretched out to a 38-30 lead on a follow shot by WCC Player of the Year Jill Barta, who finished with a quiet 19 points.
Gonzaga put the game away with a 20-14 advantage in the final period to improve to 26-5. USF, with its depleted roster, finished the season 16-15.
“It was a gritty game for us,’’ Fortier said. “USF plays so hard and are so talented. They have players who aren’t one-dimensional. We knew we had our hands full defensively.’’
Guard Emma Stach came up big for the Zags with 14 points as she hit on 4 of 7 attempts from behind the arc. She also played a little defense, too. Her work on this end help limit USF’s Anna Seilund to 9 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
“My teammates always do a good job of looking for me,’’ Stach said. “I was open, I shot it. It got momentum going. As a senior, it’s March, you really want to win. I tried to play really hard.’’
As for her defensive work on Seilund, Stach said, “I always defend against her. She’s a really tough player to guard. That’s a challenge I love. It was great that I could limit her. I really like to play against their best player.’’
On her two successful 3-point shots in the fourth period that gave her team leads of 51-41 and 54-43, Stach celebrated by punching her fist downward as she ran back on defense. Fortier loved seeing that from the normally circumspect Stach.
“That’s her celebration,’’ Fortier said. “Emma is very even-keeled out there. She does her job. When you get that (fist clench) after a play like that, it gives us a lift. It’s fun when she celebrates.’’
For her part, USF coach Molly Goodenbour said, “I’m really pleased with all our kids. Really proud to see their growth on the court. Our guys were really prepared. They came in thinking they can win the game. We gave it a good fight.’’
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards. Crumpacker has been covering #WCChoops since the 2014-15 season.