The No. 25 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-2) defeated the Montana Grizzlies (1-2) 58-51 at the McCarthey Athletic Center Sunday Dec. 13. Montana’s Sophia Stiles led all players with 15 points while GU senior LeeAnne Wirth led the way for the Zags with 12 points and eight rebounds. The Zags were also able to force 19 turnovers.
The Grizzlies hit the opening bucket of the game, but the Zags would take the lead from there and never let go until the final whistle with their biggest lead of the game being 14 points.
Both teams struggled shooting from the field and with turnovers with the first quarter ending 15-9 in favor of Gonzaga. The first half did not go as smoothly as GU Head Coach Lisa Fortier imagined.
“We needed to play stronger and we needed to finish better,” Fortier said. “We did end up playing stronger so [the team] adjusted well.”
GU started the second quarter with a full-court press forcing a Montana turnover and reenergizing the Zag team. Montana was persistent, however, and got back at Gonzaga on the boards, particularly on the offensive end with five offensive rebounds over two possessions at the beginning of the quarter.
GU's pressure was able to throw Montana off enough to go into the half with a 30-23 lead. Both teams shot under 30 percent from the field in the half with both teams hitting three three-point shots combined.
Both teams would improve their shooting in the second half, but Montana continued to struggle with turnovers, ending the game with ten fewer shot attempts than the Zags. GU also made an emphasis to keep Montana off of the offensive glass. By the end of the third quarter, GU had increased their lead to a comfortable 46-34 margin.
Montana would start the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run closing their deficit to two points with just over four minutes to play. This being the Zags’ first game without fans in the Kennel, the difference was notable to the players and coach Fortier.
“This is the time where the fans would be going crazy,” Fortier said to her players after Montana cut the lead to four. She also emphasized the players have to play like it’s a road game and “artificially create that energy for ourselves.”
Out of the timeout, GU would switch to zone resulting in a Montana turnover. The following possession, Sophomore Kayleigh Truong hit a three-pointer to stop Montana’s momentum.
“Kudos to Jenn [Wirth] for kicking it out, we have phenomenal post players who can just read the game well,” Truong said. “I just want to be a great teammate and make it easy out on the perimeter for them.”
Senior Jill Townsend and last year’s WCC Player of the Year was quiet today but hit three key free throws in the last seconds to thwart Montana’s comeback efforts. She would finish with nine points and four rebounds.
GU finished shooting 31.1% from the field but was helped by hitting 27.8% of their three-point attempts. Montana was able to out-rebound the Zags 40 to 36 but lost the offensive rebound battle 18 to 10.
“We need to keep getting better,” Fortier said. “We have a lot to work on still. Obviously, we did not shoot the ball well today; we were out of rhythm. Which Montana got us out of rhythm. They played really hard, and they played really strong and tough.”
Playing with no fans in the Kennel definitely had an impact on the players and it was something they had to adjust to for the first time this season.
“We love our fans and they’re a part of what makes GU so special, so it’s definitely tough to go out there and not have that,” senior LeeAnne Wirth said. “We know they’re watching and supporting from afar so we’re just going to continue playing hard and bringing our own energy.”
Next for the Zags is a trip to Las Vegas for the Holiday Hoops Classic where they will play against Eastern Michigan on Sunday, Dec. 20.