The Gonzaga Bulldogs women’s basketball team overcame an 18-point deficit to sneak by the South Dakota Coyotes by a score of 54-50 on Monday afternoon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Senior Jill Townsend led the way for the Zags (1-1) with 20 points, including two free throws in the waning seconds to seal the win.
“We learned a lot about the team, the chemistry, and the fight we have,” Townsend said of the comeback. “We just had to take it possession-by-possession.”
It was indeed a rocky start for Townsend and her Zags against the physical play style of the Coyotes (0-2). The on-ball pressure from SD’s Hannah Sjerven and Maddie Krull was troublesome for GU in the first quarter, as the pair harassed sophomore Kayleigh Truong time and time again. Six turnovers in the first 10 minutes of action translated to 11 points for the Coyotes, who took a commanding 18-6 advantage heading into the second quarter.
The sloppy played progressed for the Zags, as they continued to struggle on both ends of the court. SD’s Liv Korngable became a problem in the first half, knocking down jumper after jumper on her way to scoring 10 points. Meanwhile, GU coughed up another five turnovers and fell behind 27-9 with 5:29 left in the second quarter.
“Our main focus was to stay together as a team,” Truong said, who finished with 12 points. “Relax, take a deep breath and have each other’s back.”
A short spurt to end the first half was a sign that the momentum was beginning to shift in the Zags’ favor heading into the third quarter. Back-to-back layups by senior LeeAnne Wirth brought the Zags within single digits, as GU was now showing its physical dominance for the first time. SD shot 2-for-10 in the quarter, as it led 38-31 heading into the final 10 minutes of action.
“We just needed a quick reminder that we can play physical and we’re not going to let them dictate our offense,” Head Coach Lisa Fortier said.
As the fourth quarter began, the Zags kept their foot on the gas pedal. A stolen pass by Townsend led to a transition 3-pointer from Truong, tying the game at 38-38 and causing the GU bench to erupt. Another steal by senior Jenn Wirth was followed by a jumper from Truong, giving the Zags their first lead since the first quarter.
It was a 47-40 advantage before the Coyotes began to fight back. With less than two minutes left, Sjerven finished a contact layup down low after a bounce pass from Korngable. A missed free throw gave GU a one-point lead.
The final possession found the Bulldogs needing one last defensive stop to complete the comeback. With the score closely contested at 52-50, Korngable drove by Truong on her way to the basket before taking an extra step after picking up her dribble, resulting in a travel violation.
Townsend knocked down two free throws with just five seconds left, ensuring a Bulldog victory.
Fortier noted the team’s commitment to defense and execution down the stretch caused the tides to turn in their favor.
“I think the way we were defending put them on their heels a little bit for the first time,” Fortier said. “I thought our team executed out of timeouts extremely well.”
Outstanding performances from both Townsend and Jenn Wirth over the last two games earned them spots on the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic All-Tournament Team. The team also rose to No. 18 in the Associated Press power rankings, up three spots from their preseason ranking.
The Zags will get some rest before taking on South Dakota State University on Sunday in Brookings, South Dakota.