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Gonzaga women focused on Bay Area trip, not moving up in the polls

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 15, 2020

Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend  points to the video board during a replay during a game against Pacific on Jan. 11, 2020, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend points to the video board during a replay during a game against Pacific on Jan. 11, 2020, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)

Asked on Tuesday about all the upsets last weekend in women’s basketball, Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier was both hopeful and cautious.

Losses by top-ranked UConn, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State, among others, confirmed in Fortier’s mind that there’s more parity than ever in the women’s game.

“It’s good,” Fortier said. “The development of players, the development of coaches, it’s fun to see.

“It used to be that you didn’t even check the scores, because you pretty much knew what was going to happen. As a coach, it’s a little bit more weight your shoulders, of what’s going to happen.”

That’s especially true when your team is 16-1 overall, 5-0 in the West Coast Conference and No. 16 in this week’s Associated Press poll. Even more impressive, GU remains a lofty seventh in the Rating Percentage Index, or RPI.

The Zags have room to move up the rankings – unless someone pulls them down from behind.

That brought the conversation to this week’s trip to the Bay Area, with games against Santa Clara on Thursday and San Francisco two days later. Both teams reside in the lower half of the WCC – all the more reason for concern.

“We need to be focused,” Fortier said.

Players also pay attention to the standings.

“It means something, but at the same time it doesn’t,” junior wing Jill Townsend said. “We’re never safe, no matter where we go, and we just can’t overlook anyone.”

Fortier backed that up by recalling past struggles on this particular road trip.

True, the Bulldogs won both games by double digits the past two years, but Fortier was only 3-3 in the three seasons before that.

“I don’t know what it is, but we’ve struggled on this road trip,” Fortier said.

First up is Thursday night’s contest at Santa Clara (8-8, 2-3), which has dropped three of its last four games.

The Broncos are a veteran group, with all five starters and most of the backups returning. Their leading scorer, guard Tia Hay (13.1 ppg) has missed the last three games to an undisclosed injury.

That was a big factor in the Broncos’ defeats last weekend at Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.

Earlier this season, Santa Clara knocked off Pacific, which took Gonzaga to the limit last weekend in the Kennel.

Also averaging in double figures are 6-foot-1 junior forwards Merle Wiehl (10.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Ashlyn Herlihy (10.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg).

On Saturday, the Zags face last-place USF (7-10, 0-5).

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