In its seventh-straight West Coast Conference championship game, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have earned its fifth-consecutive trip to Big Dance. With a 62-50 win over San Diego, the Bulldogs nabbed their fourth tournament title in the last five years, to go along with handily winning their ninth-consecutive regular-season crown with just one conference loss.
The game with the Toreros was tight, and San Diego edged out to the early lead. With 2:25 to play in the half USD’s Katelyn McDaniel nailed a jumper to put the Toreros up 25-24. But the Zags would end the half scoring the next five points to take a lead into the locker room.
The second half started much like the first ended, as Gonzaga extended the run from 5-0 to 11-0 to put San Diego on their heels and down double-digits. The surge by the Bulldogs was all that was needed to stifle the aggressive San Diego defense and excellent first-half offense. The Toreros scrapped back to within two after the Bulldogs went on a dry spell that spanned nearly five minutes. Amy Kame hit a pair from the line with 9:26 remaining to put the score at 44-42. But San Diego couldn’t continue the momentum, going on a scoreless three minute span of its own while Gonzaga extended the lead back to 10.
The Bulldogs’ interior proved too much for the smaller Toreros, something that San Diego was definitely aware of in the game plan.
“Gonzaga’s interior presence is something we need to key,” San Diego’s Felica Wijenberg said before the game. “They are great rebounders. We need to focus on boxing them out and we can’t let them get second chance points. For the most part we are smaller than they are, so we need to use our physicality to our advantage.”
The Bulldogs came away with a 32-26 rebounding edge, picking up 11 offensive rebounds that were converted into 10 second-chance points. At least 18 of their 62 total points came in the paint as Gonzaga wore down the San Diego defense, that was spot-on for about 18 minutes of the first half.
Haiden Palmer finished as the game’s leading scorer with 18 points. WCC Player of the Year Taelor Karr finished with 14 and Sunny Greinacher added 12 points for the Bulldogs. Freshman Shelby Cheslek grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, five on the offensive glass.
Since 2007 and Gonzaga’s first NCAA tournament appearance, the team has earned bids to five of the last six and has advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen for three straight seasons (last year – Elite Eight).