SPOKANE — This is Jessie Loera’s team now, though she deflected that notion with the same grace she shows on the court.

“All of us have that role, of stepping up and being the leader,” said Loera, who will start at point guard Saturday in Corvallis, Oregon, where Gonzaga will face Arkansas Little Rock in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.

True enough, but now the ball will be in Loera’s hands from the opening tip, a consequence of a season-ending leg injury to starter Laura Stockton at last week’s West Coast Conference Tournament.

A day after the Zags lost Stockton, a starter for three years, they also lost the WCC title game to BYU.

Loera knows that from both sides now. A starter at the beginning of the season, the junior from Moses Lake was sidelined by concussion protocol.

She missed only two games but was supplanted by Katie Campbell. Coming off the bench the rest of the season, Loera returned to the role of spark plug.

The 5-foot-8 Loera did more than that, playing 24 minutes a game — third most on the team. She also averaged 5.6 points and a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Loera also put the heat on opponents, with 41 steals.

But does Loera feel the heat of the limelight? Not a bit.

For that, she credits Stockton.

“She always offers advice,” Loera said. “Even when she was on the court, she would help me out — just point guard stuff.”

Even with the loss of Stockton and top reserve Jill Townsend, “we have great depth,” Loera said. “Each of us played a part in getting where we’re at. We all know we’re still just as good as we were.”

Loera will get more support in the Willamette Valley.

Her mother Laura helped Oregon win a pair of Pac-10 North Division titles before settling in Moses Lake. Loera recalls many trips to Eugene to watch older sister Jordan play for the Ducks.

“I’m glad we don’t have to go that far,” said Loera, who fretted over the possibility of being shipped to Iowa or Texas. “My family is excited.”

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