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This may be Lisa Fortier's best team at Gonzaga. Will they live up to that billing at the NCAA Tournament?

Mar. 16—To those who follow Gonzaga women's basketball, there's no doubt where coach Lisa Fortier's 2023-24 team stands in school history.

Hands down — NCAA Tournament results notwithstanding — it is the best team Fortier has coached.

Whether it's the best Gonzaga has put on a court, well, that conversation might not be complete until late March.

In a historical sense, the loss by 14th-ranked Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game is just a blip on radar. It won't define the Zags' season.

The key for the Zags and their passionate following is not to overreact.

It may turn out to be an expensive loss, though, when seeds and sites are announced for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. And one other thing — the Zags didn't lose Tuesday because of their long layoff. They practiced hard and stayed sharp during the time off.

Plain and simple, Gonzaga lost because it didn't play well. The Zags were visibly tight — and that was manifested in poor shooting and defense.

Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier made it clear during the run-up to the season that the Zags' postseason fate won't define this team. She was certain that the Zags potentially could be the best to don Gonzaga uniforms.

What has transpired in 33 games has done nothing but provide solid evidence that Fortier could be right.

The Zags' five starters all started at one point or another last year. Technically, Gonzaga returned four starters, as graduate Brynna Maxwell began last year coming off the bench.

Gonzaga's overall goal this season hasn't been so much stated as it has been implied. The Zags want to end up in Cleveland — site of the Final Four. No Gonzaga team has advanced further than the Elite Eight.

Fortier has been around for many if not all of the best Gonzaga teams. She was an assistant for seven years to Kelly Graves before taking over in 2014-15 when Graves left for Oregon.

Graves said earlier this season he's proud of what Gonzaga has done under Fortier, saying she and her staff have taken the Bulldogs to another level than he did.

"I remember all of those players, and I know they're really good and I talk to a lot of them," said Fortier, who was named Thursday as a semifinalist for Naismith Coach of the Year. "It's hard to compare some of those teams when I was an assistant. I don't remember them quite the same as I do the head coach."

Fortier and her players have been nominated for several national awards.

This much appears certain — the 2023-24 team appears to be the deepest in school history. All five starters average double figures in scoring. Gonzaga began the season with a deep bench, but it has shortened up some in recent weeks with the season-ending injury to Bree Salenbien, a concussion suffered by Calli Stokes and a personal issue another player left the team to deal with.

Maud Huijbens, a junior forward, was named WCC Sixth Woman of the Year by the conference's nine coaches.

Senior forward Yvonne Ejim, who announced on Senior Night that she plans to return for COVID/graduate season, was named WCC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

Graduates Brynna Maxwell and twins Kaylynne and Kayleigh Truong were named to the WCC's first team and graduate Eliza Hollingsworth was named second team.

Junior Esther Little has seen much time off the bench as one of the Zags' best defensive stoppers.

Senior Destiny Burton and true freshman Claire O'Connor have seen spot duty off the bench.

"There's good depth and not a lot of weakness in our core group," Fortier said. "They're pretty good. This core group has some things we do better as a team than any team we've had. They share the ball better, we shoot the ball better. We're one of the best shooting teams in the country. I don't know that we have the defenders that we had on some of those teams individually, but collectively we help each other better."

Perhaps this characteristic makes Fortier particularly proud.

"We've had some unselfish groups, but I don't know if we've had a group that's more unselfish than this group."

Expect the Zags to bounce back from the loss in the WCC Tournament final.

"They have a weird confidence about them," Fortier said. "Last year, we got caught up in the rankings and are we going to host. This group is weirdly above that somehow. I need to figure out a better way to articulate it. They're playing to just be with each other longer.

"They're enjoying each other as much as any team I've ever coached or been an assistant with. They like being around each other. They loiter in the food room. The other day I was going to get some work done, but I decided to hang out with them in the food room."

The hope is they have more time to loiter together this season, perhaps establishing firmly that they are the best in school history.