The outcome was rosy Thursday night for No. 15 Gonzaga women’s basketball as the Zags pummeled San Francisco 56-38 in front of a sellout home crowd on breast cancer awareness night in The Kennel.
On a night where the Zags (24-2, 13-1 West Coast Conference) would never trail, a balanced offensive attack including 25 points from the GU bench, coupled with a dominate night on the glass and stout defense that limited USF to 31% shooting from the field was the recipe for success against the last-place Dons (9-16, 2-11 WCC).
“There was a lot of fouls, a lot of holding. [USF] switches all the screens and then they get underneath you and don’t let you cut anywhere, so it is hard to run clean offense,” said head coach Lisa Fortier. “Defensively, we did a really good job, so there wasn’t a lot of open easy looks for them.”
With a “pink-out” theme in the stands and GU debuting pink accented uniforms, it was clear the action in McCarthey Athletic Center was about more than just basketball.
“It is very special, a lot of us have family members, friends, people who have inspired us, who have had breast cancer and survived it,” senior guard Jessie Loera said. “Going out there today we wanted to play for them and play for the cause. It meant a lot to us today.”
If the packed house of fans in pink wasn’t enough motivation, for the first time since November, the Zags were coming of a loss after Saturday’s 70-60 defeat at the hands of the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Moraga, California.
“I think our team was committed to the fact that just because we lost it wasn’t a this or a that or any other thing, except for all it was is we need to be better than we were on Saturday,” Fortier said. “I liked the way we responded.”
For much of the first quarter, it appeared as if neither team had made the trip from California to Spokane. Scoring was limited in a quarter that saw GU shoot 33% from the field and turn the ball over five times, only to be outdone by USF’s 21% shooting performance.
A late scoring outburst helped GU turn a 4-4 tie game with 2:40 remaining into a 11-6 lead by quarters end.
“Points were hard to come by on both sides,” Fortier said.
Scoring improved in the second quarter, even as GU’s shooting percentage fell to 31%.
Inside play by the Wirth twins and a pair of 3-pointers from junior Louise Forsyth delivered the bulk of the offense for GU as its defense continued to keep San Francisco at bay. LeeAnne Wirth tallied seven points while Jenn Wirth scored six and grabbed four rebounds in the half.
“The more we can go inside, the more I am open and Jill is open and the twins (Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong) are open on the outside, so it really plays to just how our offense is able to go inside out,” said Forsyth, who tallied three steals and three rebounds in addition to eight points off the bench.
At halftime, GU held a 25-16 lead over USF.
GU’s offense opened the second half on an 8-0 run in the third quarter’s first four minutes, beginning a half where the team would shoot upward of 50% to bring its game total to 41%.
Sophomore Melody Kempton had a big half, scoring eight of her 10 points in the games back half. The forward drew five fouls on USF defenders while also grabbing six rebounds to add to the Bulldogs plus-10 advantage on the glass.
As time ticked from the clock, GU gained a comfortable 20-point lead that left for little drama late in the 56-38 victory.
“I prefer the [games] that aren’t grinders, I think the players do too,” Fortier said. “You have to figure out how to win against different defenses, different offenses. It is a good [game] to have behind us and move on to the next one.”
Senior Night against Santa Clara (14-17, 6-12 WCC) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the McCarthey Athletic Center. With a win, GU can clinch at least a share of the WCC regular-season title.