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13th-ranked Gonzaga women look to keep lengthy winning streak alive as Pepperdine visits the Kennel

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 22, 2020

Gonzaga  forward Jenn Wirth  looks for a shot against Saint Mary’s  during the first half  Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Jenn Wirth looks for a shot against Saint Mary’s during the first half Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Gonzaga women are a focused bunch – how else do you win 18 games out of 19?

The Zags’ ability to stay in the moment will get a big test this week as they host West Coast Conference rivals Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.

Dominant as GU has been in the WCC in recent years, the Zags have been even more so against the two schools from Southern California.

Pepperdine, which visits the McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday, hasn’t won here since 2010. It’s been even longer for LMU, which hasn’t won in Spokane since 2002 – when GU forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth would have been in preschool.

There’s no hint that things will change this year. GU is 18-1 overall, 7-0 in the WCC and ranked 13th in the country. Pepperdine and LMU are four games back in the standings – and even lower in the Rating Percentage Index at 246th and 248th, respectively.

Overall, it’s been a down year for the conference, which doesn’t help Gonzaga’s case as it chases a higher RPI and a chance to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games.

Case in point: Last week, the Zags got a road sweep of Santa Clara and San Francisco, yet their RPI dropped two spots, to ninth.

More worrisome are the projections from RealTimeRPI.com, whose computer has the Zags running the table in the WCC yet dropping several more spots in RPI.

The Zags have noticed.

“We pay attention to it a little and see the polls,” said Wirth, who recalls GU being “on the cusp” of hosting last year.

“It’s definitely in our minds, but right now it’s out of our control,” Wirth said.

True enough, but it’s still frustrating.

“I think people who sit behind a desk and aren’t on the West Coast, maybe don’t respect it,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said. “I’ve been here 15 years, and it’s tough – every night it’s tough.”

That’s been the case for the Zags, who were taken to the limit at home by Portland and Pacific.

Pepperdine (9-8, 3-4 WCC) hopes to do the same a lineup that’s undersized yet “scrappy,” according to Fortier.

The Waves return nine players from last season’s squad that finished 22-12 and advanced to the WNIT Sweet 16.

The Waves average 66.4 points per game, shooting 37.2% from the floor and 32.8% from long range.

Two players average in double figures for Pepperdine, led by Paige Fecske at 12.6 points per contest. Malia Bambrick adds 10.3 points per game, while Barbara Sitanggan averages 9.8.

Gonzaga will attempt to shut the Waves down with a defense that limits opponents to 52.8 points a game, good for seventh in Division 1.

The Waves average 39.8 rebounds per contest, including 14.5 on the offensive glass.

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