Gonzaga University and Brigham Young University have been rivals for years in the basketball world. Saturday, the GU women’s basketball team beat BYU for the second time this season, the first at BYU (55-43) and the second at McCarthey Athletic Center (59-44). After repeatedly falling to the cougars in previous seasons by a few points, the Zags had another chance to prove themselves.
“They’re a really good team,” junior forward LeAnne Wirth said. “We knew that we had to come ready to play.”
Both GU and BYU had a slow start in the first quarter, struggling offensively. Gonzaga scored 4 points in the first two minutes, leading 4-0 over BYU, whose first basket didn’t come until the 7:26 mark. Holding a score of 4-2, neither team scored until sophomore forward Melody Kempton hit a free throw at 4:34, but the first basket off a play in a nearly-five-minute lag was from BYU.
Both heart and determination were evident on the players' faces, but the ball just wouldn’t fall through the hoop. However, some would say these attempted shots allowed for more rebounds, which BYU excelled in. The Cougars had 16 while Gonzaga had only three. So, with a score of 7-10, BYU took the lead going into the second quarter.
When junior Jill Townsend celebrated a layup she made near the beginning of the second quarter, the crowd reciprocated her energy, which then allowed her and the rest of the team to feed off the crowd’s energy. Immediately after that play, Townsend fought for a rebound and sprinted toward the other end of the court for another layup. That was when the crowd’s spirit changed for the rest of the game. It was like they had all just woken up from a nap and were groggy until they experienced Townsend’s enthusiasm.
Townsend’s major play kicked off a 7-point streak for the Zags. When BYU broke that streak with a 3-pointer, the Cougars still had the lead with a score of 22-14. Enter Katie Campbell.
Campbell made play after play after play, whether it be steals leading to layups or perfect assists to her teammates. She also was able to mix in her legendary 3-pointers, intermixing with some of freshman guard's Kayleigh Truong’s 3-pointers. With 50 seconds left in the first half, the Zags managed to tie it up at 23-23. BYU scored a layup with 26 seconds left, and just when they thought they would go into the second half with the lead, Jenn Wirth hit a 3-point buzzer-beater, giving the Zags a 1-point lead (26-25).
“The momentum that we got on those two big shots… gave us a good, positive tone going into the locker room,” head coach Lisa Fortier saud. “And our team was able to carry it through.”
The second half highlighted senior point guard Jessie Loera’s clever assists, more of Campbell’s and Townsend’s amazing shots and LeeAnne and Jenn Wirth’s strong under-the-basket plays.
With loads of energy, the Zags stepped onto the court for the third quarter and ran an 8-point streak, giving them a 34-27 lead over the Cougars. By the end of the quarter, GU led 40-34 and that lead only grew until the end of the game.
When the fourth quarter started, Campbell scored the first basket over three minutes into the quarter. Rather than an offensive struggle as in the first quarter, this dry run pointed to the powerful defense and resilience on both teams.
“BYU plays hard,” Fortier said. “You have to play harder. You have to play smarter. If you just played hard it’s not enough.”
The Zags did play smart, but what they really proved was just how hard they played.
“It’s a dogfight when you play BYU,” Fortier said. “Your rival teams, you always have to expect that.”
At one point, Townsend took a hit to the face, but it barely phased her. She returned to the court with a swollen nose and cotton to hold off the gushing blood and ended up scoring 16 points throughout the game.
“She’s a rub-some-dirt-on-it kind of player,” Fortier said.
Townsend wasn’t the only one who came out with a battle wound. With less than five minutes left to play, Campbell made yet another unbelievable steal but was fouled when she went to shoot. During the game, she and every other Gonzaga player had taken multiple hits to the floor and jumped right back up to chase the ball down, but this one was different.
The trainers rushed onto the court almost immediately after the fall when they saw Campbell writhing on the floor, grasping her knee. She was carried off the court to an applause and standing ovation for her 17-point game.
“She’s a great defender. People think of her as just a shooter, but she does so much more for our team,” Fortier said. “Really happy for the game that she had, and we needed her every minute that she was available.”
Though they had a decent lead at this point, the Zags didn’t let the immense worry for their teammate stop them from finishing out the game strong. LeeAnne hit a 3-pointer, Townsend hit a 3-pointer and a shot clock buzzer-beater, and the game ended with a score of 57-44.
“It’s pretty sad, but our team is tough,” LeeAnne said. “I know that we’re gonna come together and we’re gonna do the very best that we can, and people… stepped up in huge ways tonight and I think that we’ll continue to do that.”
Though they won the game with no excuses from BYU (like their point guard being out) and get to celebrate their continued No. 1 seat in the West Coast Conference, the Zags left the locker room fighting off tears and with heavy hearts because of their concern for one of their best senior players.