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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jill Barta shrugged when asked at what point she realized she was having a career-best and record-setting scoring day.
"I just took the shots that were there for me," Barta said. "Those happened to be quite a few, I guess."
That's for sure.
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.
"It's pretty impressive," coach Lisa Fortier said of her sophomore forward.
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.
The Zags hugged at midcourt at the final buzzer as blue, red and white confetti fell from the ceiling. After being awarded the WCC trophy, Fortier was asked to say a few words to the crowd after securing her first NCAA bid in her third year on the job.
"I want to take a picture first," the smiling coach said before snapping a shot of her players.
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 despite leading in the fourth quarter both times.
They never led this time, as the top-seeded Zags hit 13 of 17 shots in racing to a 32-15 lead after the first quarter.
"We did not execute the way we wanted to, but they showed what kind of competitors they are in the second half," Saint Mary's coach Paul Thomas said.
The lead swelled to 25 before halftime, but the third-seeded Gaels started the third quarter 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.
"We usually face up and see the court before we throw it," a smiling Fortier said. "But she did feel a double team."
"I did," Barta insisted.
When Saint Mary's got within 66-57 in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Barta countered with consecutive 3s.
Barta hit 12 of 19 shots, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range to set the WCC Tournament single-game scoring record. Her previous career high was 33 points on Jan. 14 against Saint Mary's.
"The game plan was to shut Barta down," Galland said. "You can't let her have a record night."
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.
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.
It was the first of a Gonzaga-Saint Mary's doubleheader at Orleans Arena, with the men's final being played later Tuesday.
Saint Mary's: Thomas said he believes the Gaels have done enough to earn 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.
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