Haiden Palmer, a key leader on the Gonzaga women’s basketball team, neatly summed up the sky-high expectations of the Bulldogs when she described this season as “my most difficult year in college.”
What nightmarish ordeals has Palmer dealt with this season? Well, she explained, the Bulldogs lost a couple of close games two or three months ago.
Palmer took no chances on a repeat of such calamities in Monday afternoon’s title game at the West Coast Conference championships in Las Vegas.
The fiery junior scored a game-high 18 points and earned the tournament’s most outstanding player award after sparking top-seeded Gonzaga’s 62-50 triumph over San Diego.
Palmer’s “difficult year” now includes a 15-game winning streak and Gonzaga’s fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs (27-5) will learn Monday who they will face in an opening-round game March 23 that could be Gonzaga’s seventh home sellout of the season.
The Bulldogs, seeded No. 1 in Las Vegas after winning their ninth consecutive WCC regular-season title, trailed second-seeded San Diego (21-9) most of the first half. Palmer and backcourt partner Taelor Karr keyed a 12-2 spurt that gave Gonzaga a 29-25 halftime lead, and Palmer and Karr helped the Zags pull away for good after San Diego briefly trailed by two midway through the second half.
“Gonzaga played a great game,” San Diego coach Cindy Fisher said. “Taelor and Haiden really came to play.”
Karr, the WCC’s Most Valuable Player in the regular season, was listed as questionable after suffering a lower-back injury in Saturday’s semifinals. She declared herself ready to go in pregame warm-ups and racked up 14 points, six assists and five rebounds in 35 minutes.
“A wonderful leader,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves called her.
“I was with my trainer 24/7 … it was a rough 48 hours,” Karr said.
Karr and Palmer were joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Shelby Cheslek, San Diego’s Amy Kame and Loyola Marymount’s Alex Cowling. Gonzaga supporters made up the vast majority of the estimated 4,200 spectators.
Kame led the Toreros with 13 points, but she had five of San Diego’s 20 turnovers in a physical contest that featured 30 fouls and 38 turnovers.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder (of a team) or had a team improve more,” Graves said.
TOP 25 WOMEN
No. 1 Baylor 75, No. 23 Iowa State 47: Brittney Griner scored 31 points and the Bears (32-1) won their third consecutive Big 12 tournament championship in Dallas, rolling past the Cyclones.
Odyssey Sims scored 20 points to lead the Cyclones (23-8).
No. 2 Notre Dame 83, No. 16 Louisville, 59: Kayla McBride scored 17 points and Skylar Diggins added 14 to help the Fighting Irish beat the Cardinals, in the semifinals of the Big East tournament in Hartford, Conn.
Top-seeded Notre Dame (30-1) extended a school record with its 25th straight victory and will face No. 3 Connecticut tonight for the title.
Shoni Schimmel scored 20 points to lead the Cardinal (24-8).
No. 3 UConn 64, No. 22 Syracuse 51: Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis each scored 14 points to lead the Huskies (29-3) past the Orange in the Big East tournament semifinals.
Kayla Alexander scored 14 to lead Syracuse (24-7).
Three teams advanced to the NCAA tournament by winning their conference championships:
Kayla Christopher scored the winning basket to lift Chattanooga (29-3) to a 64-63 victory over Davidson (21-11) in the Southern Conference championship in Asheville, N.C.
Ebony Rowe had a double-double to help Middle Tennessee (25-7) pull out a 53-48 win over Arkansas-Little Rock (24-8) in the Sun Belt Conference championship in Hot Springs, Ark.
Elizabeth Beynnon scored 15 points to help Marist (26-6) gain a 72-48 win over Iona (20-12) in Springfield, Mass., giving the Red Foxes the Metro Athletic Conference tournament title.The Associated Press contributed to this report