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No. 24 Gonzaga women keep EWU winless

Gonzaga's Haiden Palmer, center, splits the defense of Aubrey Ashenfelter (32) and Laura Hughes (54) of Eastern Washington in the paint and finger rolls two points. (Jesse Tinsley)
Gonzaga's Haiden Palmer, center, splits the defense of Aubrey Ashenfelter (32) and Laura Hughes (54) of Eastern Washington in the paint and finger rolls two points. (Jesse Tinsley)

The Eastern Washington Eagles twice scratched within distance, but the Gonzaga women’s basketball team pulled away at the end for a 78-58 victory.

The win puts No. 24 Gonzaga at 3-1 for the season and leaves the Eagles still searching for their first win at 0-3.

“I give Eastern a lot of credit. We couldn’t put the dagger in them. That’s because they are a good team,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “But, they also never really threatened us.”

Eastern got within three points in the first half, and clawed their way back to 48-39 in the second half, but they would get no closer as they got a full dose of senior guard Haiden Palmer and junior guard Lindsay Sherbert.

“Haiden has had a nice season so far,” Graves said of Palmer, who scored 25 points to lead all scorers. “At times tonight, we needed her. Tonight was a game of runs.”

Eastern Washington coach Wendy Schuller said she was pleased with her team’s effort in a game she said was another learning experience playing in front of an announced crowd of 5,375 in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“When you play a top-25 program year in and year out, you have to play almost perfect basketball,” Schuller said. “We weren’t close to that tonight.”

The Eagles got 18 points from 6-2 senior center Laura Hughes, who was a force all night in the paint. Eastern also got 17 points from feisty guard Lexie Nelson, who hit three 3-pointers en route to a 17-point night.

“We call Laura our Marshawn Lynch. She can get into that beast mode and she is really hard to guard,” Schuller said.

Palmer agreed, saying the Zags focused on trying to limit Nelson and Hughes.

“Eastern always plays us tough. We knew they would give us a good run,” Palmer said. “They are a streaky team that plays hard.”

Hughes started the scoring with a jumper and a layup to give Eastern an early 4-3 lead. It wouldn’t last long.

Down early, Graves inserted Sherbert and Stephanie Golden. They provided an instant spark. Golden got some quick points inside and Sherbert hit a layup to put the Zags in front for good.

Sherbert finished with 17 points and Kiara Kudron came off the bench for 12.

“Sherbs is a heady ball player,” Graves said. “She finds ways to get it done. I love that about her.”

Behind the fastbreaks of Haiden Palmer and scoring of Sherbert, the Zags finished the first half with a 37-24 lead.

Eastern came back in the second half behind the scoring of Bethany Montgomery, Nelson and Hughes. They could get no closer than nine points in the second half in which Gonzaga poured it on late.

Palmer noted that Gonzaga’s first four opponents had been picked preseason to win their conferences.

“We got three out of four and played the one loss really close,” she said, referring to the 82-78 loss last Thursday to Oklahoma.

As for Schuller, she said she wants her team to keep working after seeing the length and athleticism of the first three opponents.

“The goal is, by Big Sky play, that we are clicking on all cylinders,” she said. “I really feel we are preparing ourselves … for the best Big Sky has to throw at us.”

Eastern plays again on Nov. 29 at Las Vegas against Iowa State. Tip is scheduled for 7:30.

Gonzaga also has over a week break, taking the floor again on Nov. 30 in McCarthey against Colgate at 2p.m.