Gonzaga struck fear into the eyes of No.1-ranked South Carolina for four straight quarters until the size and strength of the Gamecocks willed them to a 79-72 victory over the No. 21 ranked Zags in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Jill Townsend chipped in 15 points while Jenn Wirth led the Zags in scoring with 16 points before fouling out with 2:38 remaining in the game. Destanni Henderson led the Gamecocks with 23 points.
GU never let South Carolina’s lead balloon beyond eight points, but the Zags’ inability to rebound on the defensive glass prevented them from cutting into the deficit in the waning minutes. The Zags managed one field goal in the last 4:17 of the contest.
Despite the Zags troubles on the defensive glass, Head Coach Lisa Fortier was encouraged by her team’s performance in their first game of the season.
“We don’t talk about moral victories very often. We actually say there are no moral victories and I believe that, but I like that we are tough and we are not afraid of any opponent,” Fortier said. “This is not what we had penciled in the first, second, or third time we did the schedule. It wasn’t designed to be right out the gate to go play South Carolina, but I’m thankful for our veteran group.”
GU's originally scheduled season opener in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic against Oklahoma was canceled because the Sooners could not meet the minimum player availability threshold due to COVID-19 protocols.
The Zags were unafraid in the opening frame of play against South Carolina as they ran a methodical offense to get Jill Townsend on the board with a midrange jumper to start the game. GU faced an all-out attack in the paint on defense as South Carolina continually bullied their way down low for layups and offensive rebounds. Fortier employed a three-quarter court trap defense with mixed results to try and slow down the Gamecocks.
Following a bout with midmajor power South Dakota State University the day before, the Gamecocks free-throw shooting was exposed as a weakness. Their ineptitude at the line continued against the Zags, shooting 6-11 from the charity stripe in the first quarter.
Although the Zags fell into foul trouble, the free-throw shooting woes of South Carolina allowed the Bulldogs to stay close, with GU trailing 38-34 at the half. Freshman point guard Lily Scanlon from Melbourne, Australia, was the X-factor for the Zags in the first half, serving as a play-creator and shot-maker as South Carolina held reigning WCC player of the year Jill Townsend to seven points.
“We hate losing and it’s never fun, but this game is definitely something we’ll be able to use going forward and be able to learn from it,” Townsend said. “It’s a tough first game to come out and play the No. 1 team in the country right now but I’m really proud of the way we battled.”
Townsend shook free in the fourth quarter, burying a 3-pointer to put the Zags up by two with 6:21 left in the game. The Zags bench exploded and Townsend fist pumped as the No. 1 team in the country found themselves down for the first time in the game.
The two squads traded blows over the next few possessions until Kayleigh Truong was fouled in the act of shooting a 3 with GU down by one. Truong stepped to the line with the opportunity to take a two-point lead with mere minutes remaining.
Truong missed the three free throws and South Carolina took control down the stretch, building its lead to eight off a Zia Cooke layup and free throw.
The Zags cut the Gamecock’s lead to four off of Cierra Walker’s fourth 3-pointer of the contest. The effort proved to be a case of too little, too late as the Zags gave up three offensive rebounds in a row off Gamecock free throws to seal their fate.
The Zags were able to stay close to the Gamecocks in part due to their rock-solid bench play as Melody Kempton and Kaylynne Truong aided Scanlon in providing valuable minutes off the pine.
“I’m proud of our team for the fact that we go into every game expecting that we have to play our best,” Fortier said. “Today wasn’t our best, but there’s a lot to grow on.”