As the Gonzaga women warmed up for practice Tuesday afternoon, Jill Townsend was asked whether it was difficult to play while wearing a protective facemask.
“Actually, I don’t think about it too much,” said Townsend, who’s worn the mask since suffering a broken nose against BYU on Feb. 1.
“It’s just something that you have to deal with, just like everything else we’re dealing with right now,” Townsend said.
Then she walked to the sideline, donned the facemask and got to work.
The Zags are dealing with a lot this week. They’re coming off only their second loss of the season, which came hard on the loss of senior guard Katie Campbell to a season-ending knee injury.
It’s also Senior Week, with all the emotions that will entail for Campbell and Jessie Loera, their families, coaches and teammates.
“I try not to think about that,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said.
The Zags are also dealing with high expectations, although they’ve managed to exceed them while going 23-2 overall and 12-1 in the West Coast Conference. GU also is ranked 15th in the nation and closing in on its fourth straight regular-season WCC title. But the Zags are on the bubble for hosting first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at the Kennel in front of thousands of their fans.
One more defeat and it’s likely they’ll drop to a No. 5 seed and hit the road, just as they did last year when injuries and two late losses to BYU took their toll.
That team managed to regroup and reach the second round of the NCAAs.
Now it’s time for this year’s edition to hit the reset button, as Gonzaga hosts San Francisco on Thursday and Santa Clara on Saturday. Win them both and they’ll clinch at least a share of the title.
That seemed less important, however, than fixing what went wrong last weekend at Saint Mary’s.
To hear the players and coaches, there was plenty – from lackluster perimeter defense to poor execution inside on offense.
Don’t even ask whether a loss can be a good thing, as a television reporter asked Townsend on Tuesday.
“This is a group of D-I athletes,” Townsend said. “You don’t get here by not being competitive and not hating losing.”
While the Gaels shot 9 for 17 from long range in that game, Townsend wouldn’t write it off to the other team getting hot.
“But did we make them take tough shots, did we contest those shots?” Townsend said. “And on offense, did we run our offense the way we wanted to?
“The answer is no. In the end, it’s us doing what we’re doing, or not doing it.”
Of course, the loss of Campbell loomed large in the 70-60 defeat at Saint Mary’s.
Valued for her 3-point shooting, Campbell also excelled on defense, and her minutes had to be absorbed by less experienced players in true freshmen Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong and junior backup Louise Forsyth.
“Now they have players without as much experience,” said Fortier, who explained that other’ mistakes – especially on defense – can be redressed by an experienced player such as Campbell.
“Now mistakes become more obvious, and there’s slippage,” Fortier said.
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