Southern Utah, with a seven-game winning streak, appeared to be a good tuneup for the Gonzaga University women’s basketball team with West Coast Conference play opening Saturday.
Instead, the Thunderbirds were barely a speed bump Monday night as the Bulldogs rolled 102-61 before 2,538 fans at McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We’re typically better than that but your opponent always has something to do with how well you play,” Thunderbirds second-year coach J.R. Payne, a former Gonzaga assistant, said. “It’s nice for our kids to see because obviously what they’re doing here is the same thing we’re trying to do there.”
The tone was set early when all five GU starters had scored for a 13-4 lead less than 3 minutes in, and was definitely decided by the time crowd-favorite walk-on Carter Schick entered well before halftime, which ended 63-36. Challis Pascucci had half of the points for the Thunderbirds (9-6) but she was shut out in the second half.
By the end, when the Bulldogs (12-4) cracked the century mark for the fourth time this season, star Courtney Vandersloot, in just 25 minutes, had her eighth double-double with a game-high 20 points and 12 assists. That moved her into fifth on the school career scoring list (1,612) and seventh on the NCAA career assists list (904).
Janelle Bekkering added 18 points, Katelan Redmon had 16 and 10 rebounds for her second double-double, WCC Player of the Week Kayla Standish had 13 points and reserve Megan Winters had 10.
“I thought we played really well offensively,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “It was just nice. It gives us a little confidence, gives everybody a chance to play.”
The Zags shot 55.7 percent with 26 assists from 11 players, hit 8 of 18 3-pointers and had a whopping 52-29 rebounding advantage, 24 on the offensive end.
It was painful to watch for Payne and associate coach and husband Toriano Towns, also a former Zags assistant, back in the days when Graves was rebuilding the program. Graves credited Payne with recruiting several key players who won the first of what is now six-straight WCC titles.
“They’ve built themselves into a tradition of success,” Payne said. “Every time they step on the floor they expect excellence. I’m sure that’s a daily thing for them. Confidence in what they do and how they do it is a great thing.”