Gonzaga University’s women’s basketball team entered the West Coast Conference tournament in the semifinals to play against the University of Portland who defeated University of the Pacific in the quarterfinals. Despite their two matchups this season in which the Zags emerged victorious, the Pilots came out with a 69-70 comeback victory over the Zags.
After winning the tipoff, the Zags immediately ran the ball down the court to score the first basket of the game within 20 seconds, a 3-pointer from Jessie Loera. The pilots returned with a basket on their end but after that, they failed to see much action in the quarter. GU went on a 13-point streak thanks to its strong passing game and Jenn Wirth’s jumpers. She tied with Jill Townsend as a lead scorer in the first quarter; both scored 8 points. By the end of the game, Jenn scored 21 points, Townsend scored 15 and Loera ended up with 11.
The first quarter came to a close with a 29-14 lead by the Zags.
“I think that was one of our best first quarter efforts offensively that we’ve had all season,” said GU head coach Lisa Fortier.
With the arrival of the second quarter, the Pilots came out with more speed and aggression. By getting the ball to their leading scorers in Alex Fowler and Kate Andersen, the Pilots managed to make a run and even the score midway through the third.
“They’re problematic offensively,” said Fortier. “They run a lot of good offense and they have players who make baskets if they get in the paint and they’re hard to keep out of the paint.”
GU was able to keep its lead in the first half mainly because of Townsend’s toughness on the court and Jenn Wirth's rebounding under the basket. Jenn
wirth had eight rebounds while both Townsend and Melody Kempton had five. In one particular rebound, Townsend seemed to come out of nowhere to get the ball before three of Portland’s players.
Even with GU’s strongest players, the second quarter ended with the Pilots trailing by only three points.
“The whole second quarter I think really lifted up our intensity,” said Fowler. “We got the nerves out… so going into halftime we were really confident with our momentum.”
The Zags ran into some trouble rebounding and faced several questionable foul calls that gave the Pilots that many more points. It also led Townsend to foul out in the last five minutes and LeeAnne Wirth to foul out in the last two minutes. The Pilots kept creeping up and went into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead.
“They came at us really strong and we needed our defense at that point,” said Jenn Wirth. “That kind of was up and down depending on the time of the game and so we knew that the game was gonna come down to defense.”
The last 10 minutes of the game featured several steals from Loera, one from Townsend and one from Jenn Wirth, all resulting in assists leading to baskets. However, the Pilots were still constantly a few points ahead of the Zags until Kayleigh Truong was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with under three minutes to play. She made all three free throws, giving her team the lead with a score of 65-63.
By the last play, GU had a 69-68 lead over Portland with eight seconds to go. Within five seconds, Portland made a layup, bringing the score to 69-70, and three seconds just wasn’t enough time for the Zags to come back.
“It hurts, it’s not easy,” Jenn Wirth said. “But I think we’re gonna learn a lot more from this than we would if we would have won.”