The Gonzaga men will not be the only WCC team playing for a trip to the Final Fur on Sunday. The Saint Mary’s Gaels, the last of four women’s teams from the conference left standing in the WNIT, will visit UCLA on Sunday for the right to go to the WNIT Final Four.
Reaching the Elite Eight of the WNIT has already equaled the deepest postseason run in program history as the Gaels reached this point in the 2012-13 season. This is the sixth consecutive postseason appearance for the Gaels, and they are an impressive 9-3 in the WNIT over the last three seasons.
The Gaels are coming off a road win over Sacramento State, their first goad game of the tournament. They beat Hawaii at home in OT in the first round, and got a dominant 19-point home victory over Fresno State in the second round.
Dec 30, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Jordin Canada (3) dribbles the ball against the Southern California Trojans at Galen Center. UCLA defeated USC 59-52. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Bruins continue a trend of giving the Gaels an opportunity to knock off teams that caused problems for their WCC foes. This is the third straight opponent the Gaels will face that knocked out another WCC team earlier in this tournament. Fresno State defeated San Francisco in the opening round before falling to the Gaels. Sacramento State defeated Pacific in their opening round game. And UCLA used a second half comeback to defeat San Diego in the second round.
Despite that, those teams haven’t been any trouble for the Gaels. And they can go into this game with confidence knowing that they swept the Toreros in the regular season, the same team that had these Bruins on the ropes in the second round.
The Bruins struggled this season going 8-10 in Pac-12 play, and they are still under .500 even after winning their first three WNIT games. But even a sub-par team from a major conference like the Pac-12 is a test for a WCC team. The Bruins are led by Nirra Fields who averages 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Jordin Canada averages 11.1 points, and Kari Korver averages 9.8 points and shoots 39.3% from three point range.
The key will be stopping Fields who has been on a tear in the WNIT so far. The Bruins are not particularly, but Fields has carried them averaging 24.7 points per game in the tournament. Jordin Canada has averaged 14.5 points over the past two games. If they can be slowed down, the Bruins should struggle offensively.
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This is good news for the Gaels, who are much deeper with their scoring. Shannon Mauldin and Lauren Nicholsin had been leading the way with their scoring, but they have consistently gotten 3-4 double-digit scoring performances per game as others have stepped up to help. They were dominant inside against Sacramento State in the last round, and they will look to exploit their talent in the paint once again Sunday.
This will however be a much tougher test that the last round. The Hornets relied heavily on the three pointer and could not compete inside with the Gaels. The Bruins will be a different story. Fields could be the most dominant player in the paint all game, and she will get a good number of rebounds to go along with her points. And Lajahna Drummer is a fierce rebounder who is averaging 9 rebounds per game.
The Gaels won’t be as dominant inside, and the rebounding battle will be much closer than the 59-29 margin they had over the Hornets. But with a deeper group of scorers, the Gaels still have a good chance if they can slow down the Bruins even a little bit. They can overwhelm the Bruins inside, and as long as they get another 3-4 double digit scoring performances while slowing down Fields, they should be able to win this game and advance to their first postseason Final Four.
The game is at 2pm Pacific on Sunday. It is being streamed on the Pac-12 Network.