Following their two wins against Central Washington and Montana State, the Zag gear up for The Cardinal.

After winning one exhibition game and two regular-season games, the Gonzaga University women’s basketball team (2-0) is looking good right now. 

However, the No. 10 ranked team in the country, the Stanford University Cardinal (1-1) roll into town on Sunday and the Zags will be tested.

GU has done well against its early schedule opponents, defeating Central Washington 78-42, Montana State 72-47 and Montana 67-60. 

The Zags are also bringing some old and new faces to the starting lineup, including red-shirt senior forward Anamaria Virjoghe, junior guard Kayleigh Truong, redshirt senior guard Cierra Walker, senior forward Melody Kempton and senior guard/forward Abby O'Connor.

The starting lineup seems to be set in stone at least for now after the first few games for the Zags. 

“We should leave the lineup how it is,” Head Coach of GU Lisa Fortier said. “I think that there’s a possibility for our lineups to change. And not because of the skill of the players but you're always looking for different things. It's not just your five best players. What combinations do you have and what can you bring in off the bench?”

Even though GU has lost three of its top scorers last year, Jill Townsend, LeeAnne and Jenn Wirth, team still has a lot of depth in the second unit as sophomore forward Yvonne Ejim in her first game of the season where she scored 14 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Kaylynne Truong has also played well as she scored 16 points and made all three of her threes against Montana State and scored 15 points against Montana.  

The starters played well too, as Kempton scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds marking her first double-double in the season. Kayleigh has also been effective in her starts as she scored 12 points against Montana state and 13 points against Montana. 

“I think our team definitely has that gritty spirit; we’re out to prove everyone wrong,” Kempton said. “We want to do the best we possibly can, but we also know what we can do and we’re going to show everybody what we can do.”

Looking at Stanford, the program is looking to achieve a benchmark for the team as they try to achieve back-to-back championships, which would be the first in program history. 

The defending national champions were voted No. 3 in the Associated Press Top-25 preseason poll and also received five first-place votes but have fallen in the rankings to No. 10 in the nation. 

The Cardinal won their first game against Morgan State with a score of 91-36 but they lost their second game to 25th ranked Texas last Sunday, 61-56. 

Stanford lost their star player Kiana Williams to the WNBA draft this spring but the other four regular starters have returned for this season. 

Junior guard Haley Jones, senior guard Lexie Hull, sophomore forward Cameron Brink and sixth-year guard Anna Wilson were the Cardinal’s other four starters for the majority of the season with the only new face being junior guard Hannah Jump who came off the bench last year for Stanford. 

Jones was named the NCAA Tournament Final Four Most Outstanding Player in 2021 after leading the team in scoring in both of its Final Four games. Wilson is also back for a sixth year after the NCAA declared that last season did not count towards NCAA eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She scored nine points in Stanford's debut against Morgan state and scored 15 points against the Longhorns all while adding five assists.  

Similar to the Zags, the Cardinal also have depth in the bench, as junior forward Francesca Belibi scored 12 points against Morgan State while also adding two blocks against Morgan State.  

Hull had 11 points against Morgan State and 16 points all the while adding 11 rebounds against the Longhorns, so expect the Zags to find a way to slow her down. 

Brink had 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks against Morgan State. Head coach for the Cardinal Tara VanDerveer mixed and matched rotations and that produced a balanced attack from her deep and versatile roster. 

Stanford scored 47 bench points and 14 out of 15 players scored against Morgan State but they didn’t have the same success against UT where the bench only scored 10 points as a unit. 

A key for the Zags to win this game will be to limit the Cardinal on their threes and play good perimeter defense, as the Cardinal in their win against Morgan State went 10-for-22 from three. But in the team's loss to Texas, Stanford shot 4-for-27 from behind the arc. 

Another key for the Zags is to protect the paint as the Cardinal shot 58.2% from the paint in their win against Morgan State but in their Texas loss, the Longhorns did a good job at limiting Stanford in its shot opportunities while also adding full-court pressure to cause pressure.  

If necessary, the Zags can foul the Cardinal, as their free throw percentage for both games was 71% from the line. 

GU will take on Stanford on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Daniel Fortin is a staff writer.

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