Gonzaga women’s basketball (8-2) brought WCC play into the Kennel for the first time this season with a 69-37 win over Saint Mary’s College on Saturday.
The No. 23 team in the nation began its WCC schedule on the road in California with games against LMU on Dec. 28 and Pepperdine Dec. 30. The Zags handled both opponents 65-62 and 58-42 respectively to give the team a 2-0 record in conference.
SMC finished in seventh in the WCC last season but upset GU in Moraga, California late last season to give the Zags their lone regular season conference loss. The Gaels dropped their inaugural WCC game of this season at home against Pacific on Dec. 30, and the Gaels host a 2-5 record on the year overall.
A 12-0 run to get Saturday's contest started put GU up by double digits early, and GU would hold onto at least a ten point lead for the rest of the game. The Zags shot at a 33.3% clip in the first quarter, but the team’s ability to limit turnovers and fouls allowed them to stay in control while the Gaels turned the ball over six times and committed four fouls in the first 10 minutes.
Senior guard Jill Townsend had six of the Zags 12 early points, but her night didn’t end there as she distributed four assists in the first half. Townsend finished the contest with eight points and six assists as she was consistently able to find some of the GU bigs in the post with mismatches leading to easy scores.
“Each game presents itself with areas where we can capitalize offensively and our guys play a really strong post against undersized post players,” Head Coach Lisa Fortier said. “We have a little bit of a height advantage so we really wanted to look inside and I thought they looked for each other well. When you do have an advantage inside, that tends to draw some help and open things up for other players.”
The Gaels were able to get their feet underneath them in the second quarter by scoring 12 on 5-12 shooting, but the Zags continued to stay on top by collecting 18 points of their own in the second quarter to finish out the first half on top 30-16.
The Zags also dominated on the glass in the first half, securing 27 rebounds to SMC’s 14 which granted GU more time of possession while limiting SMC’s chances of creating second chance opportunities. The Zags finished plus 18 in rebounds over SMC and had 15 offensive rebounds to SMC’s seven.
“We’ve developed that habit where we’re going to the glass every single possession, even if they’re not all offensive rebounds,” Fortier said.
The biggest force inside the paint for GU all game was Jenn Wirth, who finished with a game high in both rebounds and points with 14 and 11 respectively. Wirth’s double-double on Saturday was her seventh in eight games.
“Each game there’s going to be something different that’ll be asked of me, it could be scoring, it could be rebounding, it could be blocking out on defense so where I have the advantage I want to use that just giving my team second chance points,” Jenn Wirth said. “I really have to credit my teammates because they make me look good.”
Gonzaga sophomore Kayleigh Truong opened up the third quarter with a converted 3-pointer, and the Zags would continue to mount on their lead from there. A 13-0 run by the Zags late in the third quarter was capped off by a 3-pointer from transfer guard Abby O’Connor to give GU a 54-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Shooting woes continued to hinder SMC’s chances of getting back in the game, as they shot 29% from the field in the second half and 31.1% throughout the entire contest, only being able to score 9 points in the third quarter. The Gaels took 27 shots beyond the arc last season when they beat GU, but SMC converted two of their 13 3-pt attempts on Saturday.
“I think [SMC] still wanted to draw help and kick to shooters, we just didn’t allow them to get those open looks early,” Fortier said. “Then they’re trying to figure out something else but I think we jumped on them at the start and that’s a little bit deflating where nothing feels like it’s going well."
In the fourth, the Zags were able to hold steady with the lead that the team built up in the third, scoring 15 points on 6-11 shooting, while SMC suffered from a couple of scoring droughts down the stretch that kept them to 12 points scored in the final quarter. Only Jenn Wirth and LeeAnne Wirth scored 10 points or more, but six GU players had either seven points or more and they did it on 44.8% shooting as a team.
“It comes down to looking inside and attacking that, and once they adjust then we have to adjust as well. I kept telling our team that [SMC] was going to start doubling and I needed our guys to be ready for the ball and they 100% were; I think that’s a strength of this team that we go inside-out really well and outside-in just the same.”
Down the stretch, it was GU’s ability to maximize their own possessions while stifling SMC on defense that led them to winning by a 32 point margin when the game was all said and done. The Zags look towards their second home WCC matchup on Monday against Pacific.