The No. 25 Gonzaga Bulldogs got the Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas underway on Sunday with a 77-68 win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
This is GU’s third time participating in the Holiday Hoops Classic, with their most recent visit coming in 2011 when the team went 2-0 and took home the invitational title. Eastern Michigan was a novel opponent for the Zags though, with GU only ever having squared off against a program currently in the Mid-American Conference once before.
GU headed into Sunday’s tip-off coming off two straight wins and holding a 3-2 record, with EMU also hosting a 3-2 record since losing to Bowling Green on Dec. 11.
Following two straight EMU turnovers, Jenn Wirth got the Zags on the board first with a mid range jumper. EMU proceeded to go on a quick 5-0 run, but Wirth followed that up with a quick layup score to make it 5-4. Wirth finished the game as GU’s top scorer with 18 points while also reeling in 10 rebounds to get her second double-double on the season.
The first quarter saw the lead change five times between both teams as they struggled to get into an offensive rhythm and gave up a combined 11 turnovers. GU alone gave up seven turnovers in the first 10 minutes, and their total of 17 on the day gave way to 20 EMU points.
The first quarter closed with the Eagles out in front 18-16 behind a strong start from redshirt sophomore Ce’Nara Skanes, who finished the game with 24 points.
Both teams went back and forth with each other to start the second quarter as turnovers continued to hamper either of their abilities to go on a consistent scoring run. Back to back scores from senior Jill Townsend helped the Zags tie the game at 27 and then go on to take a 30-27 lead with five minutes left in the half. Townsend would finish the night with a double-double as well, dropping 11 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t look back from there and went into the locker room at half on top 39-32. EMU suffered from a scoring drought in the final two and a half minutes of the second quarter and finished the half on 38% shooting from the field while the Zags were shooting at 52% and were 5-8 from three.
Both teams started off the second half with less turnovers collectively and they were both able to keep pace with one another shooting to keep the scoring gap consistent. The Zags’ lead began to widen as the third quarter wore on however, as EMU struggled to stay out of foul trouble and were unable to keep GU off the boards. The Eagles 41 committed fouls during the game led to 23 GU points at the line, and the Zags out-rebounded EMU 49 to 27.
GU was able to take its first double digit lead with one minute left in the third quarter as a Melody Kempton layup pushed the team’s lead up to 55-45. Kempton was a starter in today’s game and finished as the Zags’ No. 2 scorer with 13 points along with eight rebounds.
The fourth quarter opened up with a 6-0 run by the Zags which saw the team take its biggest lead of the day at 64-48. The Eagles didn’t help their own cause down the stretch though, as the team failed to convert a field goal for six consecutive minutes in the middle of the fourth quarter.
A 3-pointer by EMU guard Jenna Annechiarico with three minutes left broke the Eagles out of their slump to bring the score back within 10 and Annechiarico finished with a game high 27 points.
It wasn’t enough for EMU however, as the Zags stayed consistent in their scoring attack and finished on top by nine points as the buzzer sounded to award GU the 77-68 victory.
GU improves to 4-2 on the season and will look to be pumped up in the AP poll on Monday before they take on the University of North Alabama in the team’s second and final game of the Holiday Hoops Classic.