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Gonzaga women put Saint Mary’s win in the past as Pacific visits the Kennel

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 10, 2020

Gonzaga forward Melody Kempton  looks for an opening against Saint Mary’s forward Claire Ferguson  during the second half Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. GU won 74-49. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Melody Kempton looks for an opening against Saint Mary’s forward Claire Ferguson during the second half Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. GU won 74-49. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Fortunately, head coach Lisa Fortier didn’t get too caught up in the euphoria of Gonzaga’s emphatic win over Saint Mary’s on Thursday night.

Asked by a television reporter after the game whether the 16th-ranked Zags “are a team that you believe could compete for a national championship,” Fortier paused and brought him back to earth.

“You know, we need to keep getting better,” Fortier said after a 74-49 win that wasn’t even that close.

“If we could figure out a way to play defense the way we did in the second quarter and score points the way we did in the third and first … but we had a long way to go before that.

“But we’re capable of winning a lot of games.”

The national experts think so, too. In this week’s rendition of his popular NCAA bracket prediction, ESPN columnist Charlie Creme has the 15-1 Zags (4-0 in conference) as a No. 3 seed and hosting first- and second-round games at the Kennel.

Implied in that prediction is that GU would move on to the Sweet 16 at the Portland Regional – a short trip by car but light-years away in Fortier’s mind.

“Right now we’re focused on the next game,” Fortier said.

That would be Saturday afternoon against Pacific, which visits the Kennel as the only other conference team with double-digit wins.

The Tigers (11-5, 4-1) are off to their best WCC start in five years after a come-from-behind 77-73 win at Portland on Thursday. It was Pacific’s fourth straight road win.

“I know they’re really good,” said Fortier, who lost three of her first five meetings against the Tigers as head coach. GU has won the last six, all by double digits.

The Tigers are led in the paint by two players averaging better than 15 points a game.

Junior Brooklyn McDavid, a 6-foot-1 junior, has scored in double digits in 13 of the Tigers’ 16 games. She averages 15.6 points and 5.7 rebounds.

The player who’s more productive is senior guard Valerie Higgins (16.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg), who registered a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards against Portland.

No other Pacific player averages more than 7 1/2 points a game.

Unlike the all-guard lineup of Saint Mary’s, Pacific’s is more balanced. “They don’t shoot a billion 3s,” Fortier said.

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