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Greatest hits & bad beats: Gonzaga women have become a safe bet to shine since WCC Tournament move to Las Vegas

If only the sports books on the Strip allowed wagers on women’s games.

Since the West Coast Conference Tournament moved to Las Vegas more than a decade ago, Gonzaga has been one of the best bets in town.

In 11 tournaments, the Zags have won 20 games and lost just four while claiming seven titles.

They’ve had a few disappointments, but mostly runaway success that almost matches their dominance in the WCC regular season.

And on the four occasions they fell short in Vegas, the Zags recovered by winning postseason games every time.

Some of the biggest highlights and lowlights for the GU women in Las Vegas:

Greatest hits

2009: Gonzaga 66, San Diego 55

Gonzaga basketball was on the rise in the late 2000s, and coach Kelly Graves got more confirmation after the Zags beat San Diego for the title in the first WCC tournament held in Las Vegas.

“We were driven – not that the other teams weren’t – but this team, more than any other, is the most talented we’ve had,” Graves said.

The Zags already had won the regular-season title, but beating the Toreros also meant some payback for a title-game loss the previous year in San Diego and sent them to their second NCAA Tournament in three years.

Gonzaga put five players in double figures, including reserve forward Kelly Bowen’s 15 points and a double-double by conference Player of the Year Courtney Vandersloot.

Heather Bowman scored a team-high 16 points, Janelle Bekkering 14, Vivian Frieson 11 and Vandersloot 10, plus 10 assists.

2011: Gonzaga 72, Saint Mary’s 46

The best team in GU history was in peak form in Las Vegas, even when Saint Mary’s tried to slow down the tempo in the title game.

Leading 28-20 at halftime, the Zags turned up the jets in the second half, blowing past the Gaels and punching their ticket for NCAA games in their own gym.

“Isn’t that great?” said Graves, whose team eventually reached the Elite Eight.

The 20th-ranked Zags savored the moment, including their 18th straight win and third consecutive tournament title.

“I told them I was really proud of them,” Graves said. “To show the composure the way we did, and really battle through mentally and physically and take an eight-point lead was huge.”

Katelan Redmon scored 16 points and Vandersloot had a tournament-record 16 assists.

2013: Gonzaga 62, San Diego 50

As the Zags warmed up for the WCC finals against San Diego, they weren’t counting on star guard Taelor Karr and her injured back.

But Karr carried GU on her back with 14 points, six assists and five boards in a win that sent the Zags to the NCAAs for the fifth year in a row.

“I’m a big believer that you have to have your whole team, and when she toughened it up, and decided ‘Hey, I’m going to play,’ I think that lifted the rest of the team’s spirits,” Graves said.

Tournament MVP Haiden Palmer led top-seeded Gonzaga with 18 points and Sunny Greinacher added 12.

2018: Gonzaga 79, San Diego 71

Jill Barta put it all together in what turned out to be her final win as a Zag.

The conference Player of the Year scored inside, outside and at the free-throw line, pouring in 32 points and leading the top-seeded Bulldogs past San Diego in the WCC Tournament championship game.

Barta, who didn’t make a field goal until the second quarter, also grabbed eight rebounds and went 10-of-10 from the free-throw line, icing the game late in the fourth quarter.

Barta was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, averaging more than 24 points in wins over Pepperdine, San Francisco and San Diego.

Bad beats

2012: BYU 78, Gonzaga 66

Graves took four teams to Las Vegas and only one failed to come home with the title, thanks to some amazing shooting from BYU.

The Cougars hit 68% of their shots in the first half, then “played harder than we did,” Graves said after a loss in the title game.

Gonzaga led by five at halftime but had no answers for BYU’s inside-outside game.

The game had barely ended when Graves made a pitch to the NCAA selection committee for an at-large bid, citing the Zags’ three wins over top-50 teams.

The committee listened, and two weeks later the Zags were in the Sweet 16.

2015: BYU 61, Gonzaga 55

Lisa Fortier’s first year as head coach was full of highs and lows, including a slow start, a 16-game winning streak and a semifinal loss to BYU.

Led by Greinacher’s 15 points and 12 rebounds, the Zags led most of the way. However, they were outscored 39-22 in the second half, 13-5 in the final six minutes, and left Vegas full of doubt about whether they’d make the tournament.

“Selection Monday is going to be a sweaty day,” GU athletic director Mike Roth said with a smile.

However, the Zags were rewarded with an 11 seed, making the most of it with tournament wins over George Washington and Oregon State, earning a trip back home for the Sweet 16.

2016: Santa Clara 59, Gonzaga 58

The unluckiest team in recent GU history got more bad breaks in Las Vegas, falling to the Broncos in the quarterfinals.

It was the third one-point loss in four games for the Zags, who lost several players to injury during the course of the regular season and finished fifth in the conference.

“It’s tough, I’m sure you can tell,” said senior post Shelby Cheslek, her eyes tearing up. “It’s a hard loss. We’re going to keep going and see what we have in the future.”

GU went to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and reached the second round.

2019: BYU 82, Gonzaga 68

The mood was already mixed as the Zags warmed up for the title game against BYU.

A day earlier, GU had won a double-overtime thriller over Saint Mary’s, but lost Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend to season-ending leg injuries.

Two hours later, they fell victim to a hot-shooting BYU team.

By then, Fortier had left the building for a family emergency. Her brother, Hayden, died the next day.

A week later, the Zags regrouped and beat Little Rock in Corvallis, Oregon, for their first NCAA Tournament win since 2015.

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