Women's preview vs USF

Melody Kempton makes a layup against CSU Bakersfield.

For the first games of the spring semester, Gonzaga women’s basketball will take a trip down to California to face the Broncos of Santa Clara (8-8 overall, 2-3 West Coast Conference) and the Dons of San Francisco (7-10, 0-5.) 

The latter matchup in San Francisco will be a tale of two teams on starkly different trajectories — one of national prominence and the other a quest for identity.

The Zags (18-1, 5-0) are undefeated in the new year and have continued to dominate their WCC opponents since conference play began, including wins by double digits over rivals Saint Mary’s and BYU. 

Recently rising to No. 16 nationally, GU is the favorite in every game for the rest of the regular season. The Zags’ only loss was to then-No. 1 Stanford in overtime in November, and ESPN’s Charlie Creme projects GU as a No. 3 seed in the Spokane Region come tournament time. 

However, over that span, the Bulldogs have shown signs of mortality against teams like Portland and Pacific. They had to sweat out home wins against both, notably in a gutsy comeback from a double-digit deficit against the Pilots in their WCC opener. 

“I think on any given night we could compete with the teams ahead of us [in the AP Top 25],” head coach Lisa Fortier said. “But also any given night, the teams behind us  could beat us.” 

“It’s a good place to be. I think it’s probably about right.”

San Francisco, on the other hand, has yet to pick up a win since 2020 began. The Dons are  winless in conference, with their closest affair being a 76-69 loss at Loyola Marymount last week. A win at home against the No. 16 team in the country would provide an immense momentum swing for a young team trying to find its way.

USF is led in scoring by freshman Ionna Krimili, who hails from Heraklion, Greece — the guard averages 15.6 points per game while shooting 38% beyond the arc, and is one of 11 foreign-born players on the Dons’ roster. 

USF’s second-leading scorer, junior guard Lucie Hoskova, scores at a 15-point clip as well, and originates from Brno, Czech Republic. The Dons have shown a willingness to let the two-guard tandem keep shooting, as they combine for nine 3 -point attempts per contest.

GU has largely relied on defensive playmaking from its guards to suffocate opposing shooters like Krimili and Hoskova. 

The Zags’ opponents average 53 points per game on 25.4% shooting from downtown, while the Bulldogs score 70 points each outing and shoot 46.2% beyond the arc. GU also leads the WCC in defensive rebounding.

However, in the Zags’ games against the league’s two leading scorers, Pacific’s Valerie Higgins and Portland’s Alex Fowler both exceeded their scoring averages and GU only won by single digits.

“San Francisco has a lot of young players, and so they just kind of play a little bit different and we’re not used to that,”  said Jenn Wirth, the Zags’ leading scorer and reigning WCC Player of the Week. “But it doesn’t matter who we’re playing — whatever they do, we have to take it in and make those adjustments.”

As they have all year, the Zags will likely dig deep into their bench for a diverse scoring effort. Nine players average double-digit minutes, and Fortier has made it a point to continue spreading the wealth throughout the rotation. 

Leading scorers Wirth and Katie Campbell average 11.8 and 11.1 points per game respectively but each only plays 28 minutes per contest. GU has also frequently relied on guards Jessie Loera and Jill Townsend, as well as forward LeeAnne Wirth, in crucial moments for a scoring punch. 

Efficient production from both the post and perimeter in a smaller sample size has become a staple for the offense, especially since the beginning of conference play. 

Fortier said she hopes to continue improving the smaller things in her team’s play — minimizing mistakes and withstanding the pressure — especially on a road trip that has been tough for the Bulldogs in past years.

“We’ve struggled on this road trip, to be honest with you,” she said. “We haven’t executed our best.

“We have been in tight games in both of those places a lot, so I hope that whether we’re in tight games or not, we have great focus going down there.”

Connor Gilbert is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: 

@ConnorJGilbert.

Connor Gilbert is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @ConnorJGilbert.

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