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Loss doesn’t spoil Zags’ record season

Heather Bowman leaves GU as the most decorated player in the women’s program.  (Associated Press)
Heather Bowman leaves GU as the most decorated player in the women’s program. (Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Too many amazing things happened this season to feel too bad for the Gonzaga women’s basketball players just because their season ended before they wanted it to.

You can’t make history, blaze trails and reach new heights, whatever this season might be called, and remain disappointed for long.

But broken hearts were obvious late Saturday night in the aftermath of the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ 75-56 crash landing in the NCAA tournament. It didn’t matter that the end came in the Sweet 16 or at the hands of a bigger, stronger and favored opponent.

“I’m really proud of how we did this season,” Bulldogs coach Kelly Graves said. “A lot of firsts were accomplished.”

And so much more.

One game won’t erase a 29-4 record, a top 20 ranking, 20 straight wins. Only the winning streak isn’t a school record.

So don’t mope for long, celebrate the accomplishment.

This team scored 2,719 points, a school-record 80 a game, among the best in the country. The Zags also set marks with 651 assists, 161 blocks and a 47.4 shooting percentage. Those are numbers that translate into entertainment.

Celebrate seniors Heather Bowman and Vivian Frieson playing in all three NCAA tournaments in school history with a WNIT thrown in.

That’s four years, 105 wins, including the first three ever in the NCAA tourament. Of the 31 losses, almost half are to ranked teams. They’ve gone a remarkable 52-4 in the West Coast Conference, helping GU reach six straight league titles.

That kind of success has them sitting 1-2 in career games – 129 for Bowman, 128 for Frieson – with 3,271 points and 1,606 rebounds.

Bowman has a school and WCC record 2,165 points and her 874 rebounds are second in school history with Frieson fourth (732).

Don’t forget the gunslinger, Tiffanie Shives. The transfer from Michigan State, in what amounted to just more than two seasons because a knee injury limited her to 10 games, had 135 3-pointers, fifth on the career list.

Those numbers will be tough to replace but 751 assists help. That’s how many helpers point guard Courtney Vandersloot has, again school and league records. Her 321 assists this season would be fifth on the school career list. And she’s got another season left.

So there is no reason to dwell on one game, finishing one step short of the Elite Eight, losing to a team that not only was better on that night but was just better.

Xavier, ranked fifth, now has a 30-3 record and 21 straight wins. The Musketeers have almost as much speed and quickness as Gonzaga and a lot more size and strength.

“They are phenomenal players,” Shives said of Xavier’s 6-foot-6 Ta’Shia Phillips and 6-5 Amber Harris. “Not only are they (tall), they are great basketball players.”

And don’t forget the experience gained in the year since the Bulldogs beat them 74-59 in the tournament last year.

“Our guard play this year is much improved,” Musketeers coach Kevin McGuff said. “We’ve shot the ball much better from the perimeter.”

Graves acknowledged all of that.

“For a good portion of the game we did a decent job,” he said. “It kind of got away from us toward the end.

“As a coach, it’s something you want to learn from but at this point I don’t know that I would have done a whole lot different.”

One game doesn’t have to be the end of an era, even if the one game brought an end to the best season in school history, probably even WCC history.

That’s something to feel good about.

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