Having returned triumphantly from a road trip that toppled two Big 10 powers, Kelly Graves and the Gonzaga women’s basketball team now face their biggest test of the season as the team travels to play Stanford at 1 p.m. Saturday.
No. 23 Gonzaga and No. 6 Stanford come into the game with one loss each. The Zags’ (8-1) loss came to then-No. 11 Oklahoma, while the Cardinal’s (7-1) loss came last month to No. 1 Connecticut. Both teams come into the match riding six-game winning streaks.
“Obviously, Stanford is a different bird,” Graves said. (On the West Coast) “They are the benchmark. They are where we’re trying to get to. It’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Graves said his team had a “huge weekend” with the 59-58 victory over Ohio State on Sunday and a close game that turned into a 70-55 victory Tuesday over Wisconsin.
The one-point win against Ohio State came from a monster game from forward Sunny Greinacher, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds. The last-minute heroics came from a somewhat unlikely source: reserve 6-foot sophomore-forward Shaniqua Nilles from West Valley High, who has fought to get minutes on a talented squad.
“I think everyone hopes to have that one big moment,” said Nilles, who nailed a last-second shot for the win. “The biggest thing was to have my teammates storm the court and embrace me. It was the best moment ever.”
Then against Wisconsin, leading scorers Haiden Palmer and Lindsay Sherbert didn’t have big nights, but senior guard Jazmine Redmon piled in 15 points to lead her team to victory.
“The best thing about our team … is two, three or four people can step up and score,” Palmer said. “Most teams, if the best two or three players are struggling, you are probably going to lose the game. That’s not the case with us.”
Stanford will require all the Gonzaga players to have good nights, Palmer said.
“We know we will have to play a great game even to compete with them,” she said.
Graves said he doesn’t plan to change how the Zags attack Stanford, except for possibly some new defensive packages for 6-3 power forward Chiney Ogwumike, who is averaging 25.8 points and 11.5 rebounds a game.
“We can’t guard her one-on-one,” Graves said of Ogwumike. “We will come up with a package there. We want to pressure them and force them into turnovers. If we take that away, we are changing who we are.”
The two big wins on the road against teams that could end up making the NCAA tournament give Gonzaga the experience needed to play against a team like Stanford, he said.
“It lets them know that you can win close ones and have the ability to make plays late in the game, which we did,” he said. “It’s far better to do it on the road because that confidence is huge.”
As for Nilles, she doesn’t get down when her name isn’t called for long stretches.
“We are a tough cover, all the way around,” she said, referring to her teammates. “Everybody needs to start looking out for the Zags. We are pretty hyped up. Stanford better watch out.”