Goosebumps. That’s the only way to describe this game.
The Gonzaga women’s basketball team defeated Brigham Young University 43-42 for the WCC championship title in Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon.
It was a strenuous battle from the beginning with half a dozen GU players struck by gastroenteritis the night before the game. Senior forward Lee Anne Wirth was unable to play any minutes because of the illness. Senior guard Jill Townsend, who went through two bags of IV fluid before the game, fought through 18 minutes of playing time.
Redshirt senior guard Cierra Walker managed to play 15 minutes in the same condition as Townsend. Senior forward Jenn Wirth was able to play 33 minutes and sophomore guards Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong played 31 and 29 minutes respectively.
With the majority of GU’s starters completely out of the game or sluggishly playing it out, freshman forward Yvonne Ejim was the player who stepped up to make a significant impact in the 21 minutes she played. She scored a total of 13 points and came out with 9 rebounds, one of which led to the game-winning shot made by Townsend.
“I love the depth and I think it speaks to all of our players and what we can do if we’re clicking,” GU Head Coach Lisa Fortier said.
The Truong twins also made a huge impact on the outcome of this game. Kaylynne Truong scored eight points and Kayleigh Truong was the one to find Townsend off the sideline for the last shot.
“It wasn't just the shot I hit; it was everything that happened before to get us in that position,” Townsend said. “It was a team effort, and it was incredible.”
The Zags were just two points away from winning the championship game with 10 seconds left on the clock. On BYU’s last possession, senior guard Paisley Harding, one of the star players, missed a crucial layup. Jenn Wirth got the defensive rebound, and the Zags called a timeout. Kayleigh Truong missed the next layup with just 2 seconds left in the game. Ejim got the offensive rebound, which led to a jump ball given to GU – 1 second left and another timeout called. Only 0.6 of a second remained on the game clock. Kayleigh Truong passed the ball in bounds to Townsend who got a shot off right away and made the jumper. That was the only shot she made in the game, and it was the only one that mattered.
“We just had a lot of confidence that she would be right mentally and that that was a shot that she could make in her sleep,” Fortier said.
Despite GU’s improved second-half performance, the first half was all BYU. The Zags trailed 13-22 by halftime as a result of their 17.2% FG shooting, while BYU was shooting 32.1%. GU wasn’t knocking down shots and had trouble taking care of the ball.
BYU scored six points off turnovers and had seven steals during that first half. On top of that, BYU’s defense was hindering. The Cougars were successful in staying tight on their marks, cutting off passing lanes and ultimately getting stops and making baskets on the other end.
“It wasn’t our prettiest game at all,” Townsend said. “It wasn't my prettiest game at all, but I think when the chips are down and we needed to rally, our team just showed incredible grit and toughness and resilience, and I couldn't be more proud of them.”
One of the things that the Zags were successful in during the first half of the game was rebounding. They had 25 rebounds while BYU had 19. This is a skill they brought with them into the second half. Jenn Wirth in particular had 8 rebounds by the end of the game. With so much pressure on her under the basket, she struggled to get a shot off but made up for it in rebounds.
GU’s main change during the second half of the game was its defense. The Zags went to a full-court press to limit BYU’s shot clock and get some stops. Their energy lifted, their effort improved, and they played with determination and intent. They went into that half not with a mindset of just getting through the game. They went into it with a fighter’s mentality. They ended up scoring 16 points in the last quarter to BYU’s 6 points.
“We were like, ‘Oh, we’re only down 9 and we’re shooting probably single digits percentage, like we can’t get any worse, and so this next half we’re going to get it done,’” Townsend said. “And we found a way to get it done.”
Vegas has not been kind to the Zags over the past few years. This is the tournament where Townsend broke her leg, where the team lost the semifinals to the University of Portland with a last-second shot, where coach Fortier went through a tough loss of a family member and where crucial team members had gastroenteritis just before the championship game.
But, the Zags pulled through. The resilience, determination and heart of this team pushed them to come out on top of the WCC this year.
“Just really happy for our team,” Fortier said. “… and how we are resilient and tough and gritty and all things that say, ‘I'm a Zag, and I'm going to show you what that means if you don't know.’”