A trip to Florida over Thanksgiving break usually means spending time with family, relaxing and taking a much-needed hiatus from school.
For the Gonzaga women’s basketball team, this qualifies as a business trip.
The Zags will travel to Estero, Florida, over the holiday weekend to kick off the seventh annual Gulf Coast Showcase, an eight-team tournament loaded with talented squads from across the country.
This year’s participants will present a challenge for the Zags. Five of the eight teams made an appearance in the NCAA tournament last year, including Arizona State University, Auburn University, Drake University, University of Maine and GU.
A pool of this many skilled and accomplished teams is rare to find in a single tournament, but it might be what the Zags need: an opportunity to knock down some of the top programs in the country.
Here’s a look at the first-round schedule:
Game 1: Auburn vs. Middle Tennessee (8 a.m. PST)
Game 2: No. 23 Gonzaga vs. Dayton (10:30 a.m. PST)
Game 3: Arizona State vs. Maine (2 p.m. PST)
Game 4: Drake vs. Purdue (4:30 p.m. PST)
GU opens the tournament with a first-round matchup against the Dayton Flyers (3-1), who are making their first appearance at the Gulf Coast Showcase since 2015. The Flyers are led by a backcourt duo of Jayla Scaife and Shakeela Fowler, as they both pace the Flyers in scoring with 11.8 points per game.
Scaife is coming off a season where she was named first team all-conference for the Flyers, while averaging 15.7 points and seven rebounds per game.
The Zags must not forget about 3-point specialist Jenna Giacone, who comes off the bench for the Flyers. The senior guard has made 44% of her 3-pointers and leads the team in 3-pointers made.
While Dayton’s backcourt could give GU troubles, the Flyers have struggled shooting the ball to start this season. Dayton has made just 37.9% of its shots through two games, including 27.3% from deep. The Zags can take advantage if they rebound and create easy scoring opportunities.
A win for GU would place them in a second-round matchup against the winner of the other first round game between Auburn and Middle Tennessee.
Should the Auburn Tigers (1-1) win that game, the Bulldogs will face an experienced and talented roster. The Tigers are coming off a 22-10 season in which they made the NCAA tournament, losing to BYU in the first round. The Tigers managed to keep most of their roster intact for this season, including guard Daisa Alexander and forward Unique Thompson. Alexander led the team in 3-point shooting last season, knocking down 36.1% of her shots beyond the arc. Thompson led the Tigers in rebounding with 10.3 a game while also adding 12.2 points each night.
Both Thompson and Alexander led the Tigers in their season-opening win over Wofford. Thompson scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Alexander finished with 22 points and six rebounds.
While the Tigers’ offense might threaten the Bulldogs, their defense has looked vulnerable. Through Auburn’s first two games, it has allowed 85.5 points per game to opponents. With an offense as potent as GU’s, the Zags’ firepower could spark a runaway win.
In the event that Middle Tennessee (2-1) pulls off an upset over Auburn, the Zags would have to focus their attention on a Lady Raiders team that has struggled offensively to start the season. Through three games, the Lady Raiders have averaged 61.3 points and shot 38.6% from the floor. The Zags’ defense has looked formidable so far this season, only ceding 51.5 points per game to its opponents.
One bright spot for Middle Tennessee’s offense has been redshirt sophomore Anastasia Hayes, who leads the team in scoring with 18 points per game. Hayes has also distributed the ball well, averaging 5.7 assists per game.
If GU can slow down Hayes and execute its brand of basketball, then the Zags should have no problem handling the Lady Raiders.
However, nothing in college basketball is guaranteed.
Win or lose, the Zags will be participating in at least two tournament games. The only uncertainty is whether GU will be competing for a championship, third place, fifth place or seventh place.
In a championship scenario, a plethora of talented teams could await GU. Programs such as Drake and Maine are conference champions from last season, while Arizona State is off to a 2-1 start. The Zags will most likely face one of these teams if they advance deep enough in the tournament.
After getting a taste of elite competition in a 76-70 overtime loss to No. 3 Stanford on Sunday, the Bulldogs have proven they can hang with the nation’s top teams. A tournament championship is obtainable and would be the next step forward in growing as a team.
Coming home with a championship trophy would be something to be thankful for.