No. 20 Gonzaga outlasts San Francisco in 63-52 victory

The Gonzaga women's basketball team outscored USF 20-12 in the fourth quarter en route to a 63-52 victory on Thursday.

Even the best-laid plans of college coaches do not turn out perfectly, requiring a strong plan B to pull out the win. Fortunately for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, they turned to the offensive glass and their best playmakers to scrape out a 63-52 home win over the San Francisco Dons in front of a crowd that only became more energetic as the night went on.

“They were just being really aggressive, making it hard for us to catch, hard for us to get to the positions we wanted,” said junior Yvonne Ejim, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

That defensive strategy from the Dons paid off, as they held the Zags to one of their worst offensive halves of the season, having scored only 25 points at the half. They consistently put pressure on GU's ball-handlers and kept them from driving into the paint and setting up their offense.

Offensive rebounding was one of the Zags’ biggest keys to victory in this game, as GU’s 10 offensive rebounds generated 17 second-chance points. At the heart of the effort was redshirt junior Eliza Hollingsworth, who finished with eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end.

Late in the second quarter, Kaylynne Truong grabbed an offensive board and worked the ball to Ejim in the post for the assist. Throughout the game, plays like this one helped the Zags gain momentum.

In the fourth quarter, Truong bounced back from a rough first half to go on a personal 5-0 scoring run, while Ejim nailed a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down.

Of course, none of the Zags’ offensive triumphs would have meant much if they had not held a potent Dons squad in check for much of the evening. Head coach Lisa Fortier was effusive in her praise for the team’s overall defensive effort after the game.

“It was a good defensive effort. (USF) is a high-scoring team too, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of their lowest scoring totals,” Fortier said. “We did a good job with the gameplan…did a good job of staying attached (to Ioanna Krimili).”

Krimili, an electric scorer from Greece, was held below her season average, scoring only 12 points on 6-for-16 shooting (37.5%). The Dons as a team shot only 35.8% from the field.

Instrumental in the defensive effort was Esther Little, who has seen her minutes rise, particularly in league play. She logged 17 minutes and generated two huge defensive plays in the form of a pair of emphatic blocks that led to points on the other end.

“She never puts her arms down…she’s got great instincts,” Fortier said. “Esther is playing because she’s such a great defender. I feel confident that she can guard any player that’s on any team.”

Fortier emphasized the defensive flexibility that players like Little offer the team. Having players actively engaged in defense allows the staff to deploy their players in different ways to offer different looks and throw the opponent out of sync.

“It’s great having (Esther Little and McKayla Williams) as solid pillars for us defensively for the rest of the team to come off of,” Ejim said.

That ability to morph the defense will be increasingly important when GU starts playing conference foes like USF for the second time who will have already had 40 minutes of experience against the Zags’ defense.

Up Next: The Zags host Santa Clara (10-7, 1-3 WCC) on Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. before starting a three-game road trip. The Dons will wrap up their own road trip at Portland (11-5, 5-0 WCC) before heading home.

Bradley Sauve is a staff writer.