The Gonzaga women’s basketball team leaned on senior Haiden Palmer and she led her team to an opening 64-56 victory Friday over an Idaho Vandals team that just wouldn’t go away.
Palmer led all scorers with 18 points, but most of those came in a second half that started with Vandals raining jump shots and 3s to eventually take a 37-36 lead before Gonzaga finally found its rhythm in front of 5,607 at McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I think we hit a bit of a rough patch” to start the second half, Palmer said. “But we played through it.”
Gonzaga plays at 2 p.m. Sunday, also at McCarthey, against the University of Tennessee-Martin (1-0), which beat Georgia State 84-80 as part of the Preseason Women’s NIT.
Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves gave ample credit to the Vandals (0-1), who returned all five starters from a team that played its way into the NCAA tournament last year.
After trailing 26-14 at the half, Idaho came out on a 20-10 run to take the lead 37-36. After falling behind, Idaho scratched back to tie the game at 45 with less than 8 minutes to play.
But Gonzaga’s Keani Albanez grabbed a missed shot by teammate Lindsay Sherbert and got fouled. Albanez then put Gonzaga in the lead for good, although Idaho stayed close throughout.
“Keani has had a great spring, summer and fall to get herself in a position to start,” Graves said of the 5-foot-10 junior who scored 13 points.
The Vandals were led by senior forward Alyssa Charlston’s 15 points. Sharpshooter Christina Salvatore added 14 and Idaho got 10 points from guard Stacey Barr.
“They did a nice job. They ran some good stuff,” Graves said. “At times, we didn’t play as hard as I would have liked.”
But in the crunch time, Palmer led her team with defense that sparked the Bulldogs on the other end.
“She not only scored, she scored them at an important time,” Graves said of Palmer’s points. “When we needed her, she did it with her defense first.”
Sunny Greinacher added eight points and Sherbert scored seven, but she had a tough night from the floor, going 0 for 5 from 3-point range and 2 of 11 overall from the floor.
“But (Sherbert) found a way to help us. She had 11 rebounds,” Graves said of the junior guard who transferred to GU from the University of California.
Kiara Kudron, a 6-2 sophomore forward, also grabbed 11 rebounds for Gonzaga and finished with six points.
“We used our experience,” Palmer said. “I love that role. It gets tough when it gets that close. But Kiara had a big night and Jazmine (Redmon) always keeps everyone in line. We are so deep that anyone can step up on any given night.”
Portland 68, EWU 65: Cassandra Brown scored nine of her 17 points in the final 4 minutes and the Pilots stormed back to beat the visiting Eagles in both teams’ season opener.
The Eagles managed just two points in the final 3 minutes, 25 seconds.