Turnovers were the story of the game
All season, the question surrounding the Gonzaga women would be if they can cut down on turnovers and play well offensively once they got to the NCAA Tournament. For 10 minutes on Monday, the answer looked like it would be yes. Unfortunately, the final 30 minutes were a different story. Gonzaga finished with a whopping 20 turnovers, Belmont star Destinee Wells went off for 25 points and seven assists, and the Bulldogs season came to an end with a 64-59 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga came out with the offense flowing. LeeAnne Wirth had two early post-ups, Jill Townsend had a steal and score, and they led 22-13 after the first quarter. It was a solid, complete effort on both ends. Then turnovers reared their ugly head. The Zags had eight first half turnovers, compared to Belmont’s three, and that allowed the Bruins to go on a huge run take a 33-32 lead at halftime, despite the Zags shooting 54 percent from the field. Destinee Wells had 13 points for Belmont and set her teammates up with four assists.
The second half opened with more turnovers and more points from Wells to give Belmont a 45-39 lead midway through the third quarter. At one point, Belmont scored 18 points off Gonzaga’s 12 turnovers. The typically stout Gonzaga defense, who forces more than 15 turnovers a game, could not create their usual chaos. The Bruins took great care of the ball, only giving it away just six times the entire game.
With a chance to cut the lead to one, Yvonne Ejim missed two free throws and Wells came back down and scored agin, extending the lead to five. Ejim had a layup that could have cut the lead to three on Gonzaga’s final play of the quarter, but it rimmed out, and then Ejim fouled Wells on a three at the buzzer. Instead of being a one possession game, Gonzaga trailed 52-44 going to the final 10 minutes.
Gonzaga grinded back in the fourth quarter. Belmont finally went into a cold spell, allowing the Zags to crawl their way back into the game. Abby O’Connor hit a massive three from the left wing to cut the Bruins lead to two with three minutes remaining. Despite the 18 turnovers and the 8-for-14 performance at the foul line, Gonzaga was down just a bucket.
Gonzaga had multiple chances to tie or take the lead. Kayleigh Truong had an open three that wouldn’t go down and then Townsend lost the ball going up on a fast break. After Belmont scored at the shot clock buzzer on an out-of-bounds play, LeeAnne Wirth drilled a jumper to keep Gonzaga within two with 47 seconds left. But as she did all day, Wells had the final say. She dumped off a pass to Madison Bartley for a three-point play with 19 seconds remaining to ice the game.
Gonzaga actually outshot Belmont 55 percent to 41 percent, but the turnover discrepancy of 20-to-6 was way too much to overcome. Townsend finished with 17 points and six rebounds. The Wirths combined for 19 points and 14 rebounds.
Gonzaga finishes their season 23-4, failing to reach the second weekend for the fifth straight tournament. We will wait to see how many of the seniors decide to come back to Spokane. Cierra Walker and Abby O’Connor are likely to return. The Wirth twins and Townsend have not made any decisions. If this is the end of their careers in a Gonzaga uniform, it has been pleasure to watch them. They sparked this program to new heights, reaching the top 15 in the AP Poll and getting a top five seed in the NCAA Tournament twice. It’s just unfortunate they had each of their last three seasons ended in their own different, brutal fashions.