Gonzaga women seeking 10th straight WCC basketball title
December matchup with Stanford will tell Zags where they stand on national level.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Zags lost in the opening round of last season’s NCAA tourney, their earliest exit since 2006-07. Gonzaga will need leadership from a senior-laden team to make a longer postseason run.
California transfer Lindsay Sherbert, a 6-foot wing, is eligible this season. She was a starter on the Golden Bears’ 2012 NCAA tournament team that finished 25-10. Her three-point shot and experience are needed.
Secret agent woman?
The Zags are second only to Stanford on the West Coast in terms of success within their respective conferences and the NCAA tournament. But Gonzaga hasn’t found a way to beat Stanford. Perhaps first-year assistant coach Nicole Powell will help. A WNBA all-star, she led Stanford to a 105-26 record and an Elite Eight appearance in her four years on The Farm.
Who’ll run the offense?
West Coast Conference player of the year Taelor Karr graduated. She started all 33 games last season, not giving youngsters Keani Albanez and Danielle Walter much experience running a team with high expectations. As juniors, they have to take control.
Win one for the pinkie toe?
Gonzaga has won nine consecutive WCC championships and is predicted by conference coaches to win a 10th. The Zags also nabbed a first preseason ranking, No. 25 in the AP poll. It will take a keen focus to meet the expectations.
Friday, vs. Idaho: Gonzaga’s season opener is hosting a first-round game in the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Zags defeated the Vandals 97-62 at home last season.
Dec. 14, at Stanford: The No. 25 Zags are 0-5 against the No. 3 Cardinal since the series began in 2010. Both teams are talented, but Stanford has All-American forward Chiney Ogwumike.
Dec. 21, at Washington State: The Cougars overcame a 14-point deficit to upset the Zags in 2012 before a sold-out crowd at McCarthey Athletic Center last season. Revenge is wanted at Beasley Coliseum.
Dec. 28, at Saint Mary’s: An early 54-51 loss at Saint Mary’s was Gonzaga’s sole conference blemish last season. The Zags open WCC play against their rival.
The Gonzaga women’s basketball team has been so good for a decade it makes you want to hit pause and reflect.
Gonzaga is the preseason favorite to win a 10th consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title. It has made five consecutive NCAA appearances and it received the program’s first preseason ranking, No. 25 in The Associated Press poll.
The Zags are blending one freshman into the mix, Canadian Emma Wolfram, and return four starters. Three of the starters were named to the preseason All-WCC team, German junior forward Sunny Greinacher and senior guards Haiden Palmer and Jazmine Redmond.
Coach Kelly Graves likes the depth of his roster, which is filled with experience and size. But the scary truth is out West his team is always second to Stanford, which is ranked No. 3 nationally.
And he hates that.
The Zags open the season Friday at McCarthey Athletic Center against Idaho in the opening round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Win and Gonzaga has the potential to play four teams that made the NCAA tournament last season.
Then possibly his team will be poised to make the next step, with a matchup at Stanford on Dec. 14. The Zags want to be known as the best in the West, not just in a conference that was just percentage points behind the Pac-12 in RPI rankings at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.
“They’ve made a lot of steps in that direction. But nationally, Stanford is up there for a reason,” former Cardinal star Nicole Powell said. “They’ve been doing it for a really long time.”
Powell, a WNBA all-star, was hired by Gonzaga last summer as a first-time assistant coach. Graves, who is entering his 14th season, didn’t shy from expressing his goal to Powell.
“He would love to be what Stanford has been,” said Powell, the third assistant behind longtime staff members Jody Kaczor Berry and Lisa Mispley Fortier. “And there’s no secret about it, he hopes this year will be the year. Dec. 14. It’s already circled on our calendar.”
Graves couldn’t pinpoint just one piece he liked about the roster he thinks can get that win — which would be the first in five meetings against the Cardinal since the series began in 2010.
There’s a little bit of everything in terms of size, a defense led by Redmond, the conference’s defensive player of the year last season, and consistent scoring in Palmer and forward Lindsay Sherbert. The latter is a transfer from California, who helped it advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2012.
Gonzaga lost big games last season against ranked teams Louisville and Ohio State. Washington State and Saint Mary’s managed upsets over the Zags. The team had a first-round NCAA tournament exit, its earliest since the 2006-07 season.
Then there was a 69-41 December loss to Stanford before a sold-out home crowd that was televised nationally. Even in its worst seasons the past two decades, Stanford hasn’t had many stumbles, winning 13 consecutive Pac-12 regular-season titles and seven consecutive tournament titles.
“When you are a winning program, people can start to take it for granted, like that’s just what you should do,” Powell said of Stanford and Gonzaga. “But it’s a lot of work. I don’t have any experience on the coaching side of it, but I’ve been blown away by what they’ve built here.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org