LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Senior Haiden Palmer scored 16 points and redshirt sophomore Shelby Cheslek muscled her way to 11 points and a game and career-high 14 rebounds as No. 18 Gonzaga University women's basketball team defeated Saint Mary's College 68-60 Monday to advance to the title game of the West Coast Conference Championship.
The top seeded Bulldogs will be playing in their eighth-straight championship game Tuesday and are looking to win their fifth WCC tournament title in six years.
"Saint Mary's is one of the hardest working, physically toughest teams that we play year in and year out," stated Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves after the Zags eight-point victory. "All-in-all, it was a great game and at this time of year we are just glad to be playing tomorrow."
It was a tightly contested game early in the contest with no team leading by more than two points in the first 13 minutes.
A 9-0 run by the Bulldogs – capped off by a 3-pointer and two made free throws by junior sub Lindsay Sherbert – gave Gonzaga some space though at 24-17 with 5:15 remaining before intermission.
Sherbert went on to score the Zags final nine points – and 14 of the final 19 – to give Gonzaga the 37-26 halftime advantage. She ended the half scoring a then-game-high 14 points.
The Gaels opened the second half with a 15-8 run – sparked by Jackie Nared's six points- to cut the Bulldogs advantage to just four at 45-41 with 13:08 remaining.
Palmer and Nared went on to trade baskets, with Palmer hitting a third-straight jumper to start a 9-3 run that gave Gonzaga back a double-digit lead at 58-48 with 4:48 on the clock. Four different players scored in the crucial run. Cheslek capped off the spurt sinking two of her three made free throws on the day.
The closest Saint Mary's could get down the stretch was six points at 61-55 with 1:38 to play. Gonzaga then iced the game at the free throw line, hitting 7-of-12.
The Gaels only hit three field goals in the final 10 minutes of playing, going 3-for-13. They got the majority of their points from the charity stripe, hitting 8-of-11.
Gonzaga had eight of nine players score at least three points and all nine players grab at least one rebound in the contest.
The Bulldogs pesky defense forced Saint Mary's to turn the ball over 19 times in the game and capitalized scoring 22 points off the miscues.
The senior-trio of Nared, Danielle Mauldin and Kate Gaze combined for 47 of the Gaels 60 points. Nared finished with a double-double of 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Mauldin had 11 points and 10 boards.
"I'll tell you, those seniors (Jackie) Nared, (Kate) Gaze, and (Danielle) Mauldin are one of the best senior classes to every play in this conference," explained Graves. "That's a great senior class and one I will remember forevery."
Gonzaga will now face either No. 2 seed BYU or No. 3 seed University of the Pacific in the WCC Championship game. The contest is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday and can be seen on ESPNU.