There wasn’t much the Gonzaga women’s basketball team did wrong in its home opener Thursday night, other than letting USC score the final eight points of the game.
But all that did was make the Trojans’ 70-58 loss before 3,206 fans at McCarthey Athletic Center – the fifth-largest crowd for the women – look closer than it was.
“This was a good win,” Bulldogs coach Kelly Graves said. “I was really proud of our team. I thought we played a good basketball game, especially defensively. I thought the first half we did about as well as we could have done defensively. I loved the energy.
“After our first two games, I had some questions on our ability to stay together defensively and stop people. Those were answered tonight. We took a big step forward.”
Gonzaga (2-1), which faces another Pac-10 team in Washington on Sunday at the McCarthey, limited the Trojans (1-2) to 26 percent shooting in the first half and 29 percent for the game, which made up for a somewhat slow start on offense.
That’s where Vivian Frieson came in.
The 6-foot senior forward scored 22 points, including 17 in the first half.
“I just played,” Frieson said. “That’s all I can say. I loved the energy from the crowd, energy from my family. Shots were falling for me. The team recognized that and gave me the ball. I can’t do it without my team.”
The Bulldogs were up 15-13 when Frieson scored from the left baseline at the 10-minute mark. She proceeded to score 15 more points in the half, including 10 straight. Take away her 8-of-11 shooting and the rest of the team hit just 8 of 31.
“That’s the team we are,” GU point guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “We have so many weapons. On any given night, anybody can come out and perform like that. That’s what Vivian did and that’s exactly what we needed. We all jumped on her back and she carried us.”
As a point of emphasis, Frieson ended the first half with a buzzer-beating 25-footer for a 34-21 lead.
“She had – it wasn’t a career night – but it was huge,” Graves said of Frieson, who also had a game-high nine rebounds and three blocks. “She was big in the first half and that was when we really needed her.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs heated up and the Trojans never got close after scoring the first four points. Vandersloot had 11 points and seven assists, Heather Bowman had 13 points and Katelan Redmon added 10.
“We knew exactly how they were going to play,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “They’re a very methodical team. They’re like a machine, they just keep rolling. We had to play a very disciplined game.
“You get our best player, Briana Gilbreath, shooting 1 for 12 with one rebound, you’re not going to win many games. She’s our star player. That’s why they call it team sports – somebody else has to pick up the slack.”
Graves credited Janelle Bekkering and Redmon for a majority of the work on the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year.
“We had our share of open looks, we just didn’t hit the shots,” Cooper said. … “That’s what Gonzaga did. They hit their open shots.”
Sophomore Ashley Corral, out of Prairie (Wash.) High, led the Trojans with 23 points, but that was on the strength of 7-of-17 shooting and eight free throws. The Trojans dominated at the line, making 18 of 22 to 3 of 8 for the Bulldogs.
“We knew it was going to be a battle the first few minutes of the game,” Cooper said. “The first two jump shots they missed, they got the boards and scored. Usually, the team that wins the rebounding is going to win the game and that’s what happened in this case.”
Gonzaga had a 47-45 rebounding advantage, with 19 on the offensive end. Frieson opened the game with an offensive putback and Vandersloot followed with a 3-pointer, made possible because the Bulldogs grabbed two offensive rebounds.
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