LAS VEGAS — Jill Barta scored 22 of her career-high 37 points in a dominating first half, and Gonzaga earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in three years by holding off Saint Mary’s 86-75 on Tuesday in the West Coast Conference final.
Kiara Kudron added 14 points and nine rebounds and Laura Stockton, daughter of Hall of Famer John Stockton, had eight assists as the Bulldogs (26-6) withstood a shaky third quarter to earn their sixth WCC Tournament title in nine years.
Devyn Galland scored 16 points before fouling out late for the Gaels (20-12), who lost two close games to Gonzaga in the regular season after leading in the fourth quarter both times.
They never led this time, as the Zags hit 13 of 17 shots in racing to a 32-15 lead after the first quarter. The lead swelled to 25 before halftime, but the Gaels started the second half on a 17-2 run to get within 55-49.
Barta responded with a 3-pointer and a perfect behind-the-head pass to Emma Wolfram for a layup on the next two possessions to push the lead back to double digits.
When Saint Mary’s got within 66-57 in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Barta responded with consecutive 3s.
Barta hit 12 of 19 shots, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range in Gonzaga’s third straight win.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels’ quest for their first NCAA appearance since 2001 was thwarted by an ugly start. Despite entering with a five-game winning streak, they fell behind 8-0 and never fully recovered.
Gonzaga: The Zags picked a good time to play at their best. They won the three tournament games by a combined 74 points, giving coach Lisa Fortier her first NCAA bid in her third season in charge.
John Stockton, a former Gonzaga star, was animated as he watched his daughter from a seat eight rows behind the Bulldogs’ bench. Stockton’s son, David, also played at Gonzaga.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels are hoping for a 10th trip to the WNIT since 2000.
Gonzaga: The NCAA pairings will be unveiled Monday. Mock brackets have listed the Zags with a seed in the 11-12 range.