CORVALLIS, Oregon – Like a team shot from a cannon, fifth-seeded Gonzaga (29-4, 16-2 West Coast Conference) jolted out to a 19-point, first-quarter lead over the 12th-seeded Arkansas Little Rock Trojans (21-11, 15-3 Sun Belt), which the Zags rode to a 68-51 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday.
The Bulldogs never trailed during their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2015, when GU won a pair of games also inside Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
“You don’t have to start every game with a quarter like we had in order to win a game, but there were going to be ups and downs," head coach Lisa Fortier said. "We knew that was going to happen, so it was nice for us to get off to the start that we did so it gave ourselves a buffer."
Junior Katie Campbell opened the floodgates with a 3-pointer just 11 seconds into the game. GU piled on, scoring the game’s first 16 points and closing the opening quarter with a 21-2 advantage.
Fortier credited her team’s offensive rebounding, shot contests and team defense for limiting Little Rock in the opening frame, but the Trojans also simply could not find the bottom of the basket.
For the first seven minutes of action, Little Rock did not score, as it shot 6.7 percent from the field for the period.
“Coach [Jordan] Green had a great scout and we were really energized," senior Chandler Smith said. "Our defense was great and we shut them down early."
The Trojans weren’t going to bow down to the higher-seeded Bulldogs. Little Rock rained in a trio of 3-point shots in the second quarter and outscored GU 18-11.
Poor shooting and turnovers plagued the Zags, but another 3-pointer from Campbell with under a minute remaining in the half settled the ship for GU after a nearly four-minute scoreless stretch.
With five 3-pointers on the day, Campbell seemingly always sank a big shot when GU needed it.
“I just knew it was a big game and I needed my mindset right and my feet ready,” she said. “I couldn’t think when I shot the ball. I just know that if I am open, my teammates can’t shoot it and I need to shoot it.”
The substantial first-quarter lead gave GU room for error, as it still boasted a 32-20 advantage at the half.
GU’s defense in the second half bent more than it did in the first, allowing several transition opportunities and open 3-pointers for the Trojans, but the Bulldogs refused to break.
The Zags stifled Little Rock’s two leading scorers, Ronjanae DeGray and Kyra Collier, each who average nearly 15 points per game, limiting the duo to just six makes on 26 attempts and six points apiece.
“We stayed close to the plan,” Fortier said. “We just wanted to make sure if they did get a shot — we knew they would get some points, they are very good players — that they were all contested and nothing came easy.”
As GU halted Little Rock’s stars, the Bulldogs' depth showed its bite.
Each Zag who saw significant action scored and had at least one rebound. A variety of players also boasted assists, steals and/or blocks.
“They all bring something to our team and at any given moment, you aren’t sure what we are going to need, but there is someone to fill in that hole,” Fortier said.
Louise Forsyth was a beneficiary of the extra minutes in the wake of injuries to Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend.
The sophomore guard scored eight points in 17-and-a-half minutes of action, both well above her averages of 6.2 minutes and 2.1 points
“This is the most minutes she has played in a game this year,” Fortier said. “We’ve had to sub a little bit differently with the new lineup and the way we look now. She’s capable, she’s always got herself in the best shape, whether she’s getting reps or not and the way she shoots the ball, she’s always ready. She knocks them down consistently.”
Forsyth led a bench mob that scored 19 points and outscored Little Rock’s reserves by 15.
The Zags ended the third quarter maintaining a 49-38 lead, but had yet to pull away.
Senior Zykera Rice served as the closer in the final 10 minutes. She scored 10 of her game-high 18 points, including an and-one layup with three minutes remaining that put the nail in the Trojans' coffin.
GU’s 17-point victory came just 11 days after the team’s emotional WCC tournament where both Stockton and Townsend suffered season-ending injuries and Fortier was rushed off the court to see her brother who died later in the week.
“We didn’t talk about doing this for Hayden, or doing this for Jill or Laura," Fortier said. "It’s known and everybody is going to continue to do everything they can for each other."
The team will now have a day off before it plays No. 4 seed Oregon State (25-7, 14-4 Pac 12) on Monday. The Beavers needed overtime to beat No. 13 seed Boise State, 80-75, in the round of 64.