Gonzaga gets off to quick start, takes care of Portland to remain unbeaten in WCC play

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Gonzaga had the best of both worlds Saturday afternoon.

Even during a 26-point win over Portland, the Zags found some teachable moments ahead of next week’s West Coast Conference women’s basketball showdown at BYU.

After taking a 20-point lead early in the second quarter, GU went on cruise control the rest of the way. That worked fine against the last-place Pilots, but perhaps not next week in Provo, Utah.

“We’ve had a couple of rough starts lately, but today we got the first quarter we wanted,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said.

“After that, we were just OK,” Fortier said after the 14th-ranked Zags cruised past the Pilots 97-71 in front of a crowd of 5,697 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The win was the Zags’ 12th straight and left them at 16-1 overall. They’re also 5-0 in the WCC – right behind BYU (6-0) after the Cougars won 74-73 at Saint Mary’s.

Fortier knew the score as she emerged from the locker room.

“Yeah, I saw it,” she said, acknowledging that a big week lies ahead.

“We just need to have a tough road mentality,” Fortier said.

They’ll also need to bring the weapons that got them this far: scoring on the break and punishing opponents on the boards.

Saturday’s numbers were staggering, even by the standards of this year’s team. GU outrebounded the Pilots 58-30 – holding Portland to nine offensive boards – and scored 26 points off 16 turnovers.

That was more than enough to offset a 25-percent effort from beyond the arc and a season-worst 55 percent (11 for 20) from the foul line.

They also shot 52 percent from the field, highlighted by another stellar performance from senior forward Zykera Rice.

Coming off back-to-back conference player of the week awards, Rice had only one game this week to impress the judges and earn a third straight.

But what a performance it was: a game-high 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting from the field. She also had seven boards and three assists.

“When she wants the ball in there, you’d better find a way to get it to her,” said Fortier, who noted her team’s 16 assists.

Six of those came from point guard Laura Stockton, who had perhaps her best game of the season with 19 points, six boards and two steals.

Against a defense that let her roam at the top of the key, Stockton used her pull-up jumper to pull the Pilots out of their zone.

“I practice it a bunch and I’ve been working on it,” Stockton said. “That’s something I had to improve on, and today they were giving it to me.”

The Pilots (8-8, 0-5) also let the Zags run free in the first 15 minutes.

“Offensively, we got just about everything we wanted,” Fortier said.

An early 5-all tie was broken emphatically in a 6-minute span as Stockton hit three early jumpers to make it 18-7. Two minutes later, Rice got her first points on a layup to push the lead to 22-7.

By the end of the first quarter, GU led 29-13 while shooting 70 percent from the field and racking up 10 assists.

The rout was on, it seemed, especially after the lead hit 33-13 early in the second quarter.

The Pilots played GU even-up the rest of the way, even closing to within 12 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Stockton cited fatigue – the Zags had two days off this week – but Portland found some success taking the ball inside and earning fouls. The Pilots were 20 for 27 at the foul line.

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