It seems like an eternity since the No. 24 Gonzaga women’s basketball team beat Eastern Washington 78-58 exactly one week ago. But the respite is ending.
The 3-1 Zags’ upcoming 2 p.m. game Saturday against Colgate at the McCarthey Athletic Center will start a stretch of seven games in 18 days that will test the endurance of Kelly Graves’ squad.
Graves said he’s pleased with the efforts of backup players Kiara Kudron, a 6-2 sophomore forward from New Boston, Mich.; Shaniqua Nilles, a 6-foot sophomore from West Valley High School; and point guard Danielle Walter, a 6-foot junior from Pasco.
Through four games, Kudron is averaging 7 points and 4.8 rebounds. Nilles scored 7 points in Gonzaga’s only loss, a close 82-78 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma on Nov. 14. And, Walter is averaging 4.8 points even though she’s only been averaging 12.5 minutes a game.
“Those are two players I thought would help us at some point, but they have been a surprise this year,” Graves said of Kudron and Nilles.
Graves said he often tasks senior guard Jazmine Redmon with guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Redmon “plays so hard … we better have an able backup at point guard,” he said. “I like what (Walter) has done in backing up” Redmon.
Redmon and Walter have combined for 30 assists compared to only nine turnovers. “If we finish the year with that way, we’ll lead the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio. That’s good play out of the point guards.”
While Graves is pleased with the quality of the team’s depth, it’s created a problem of finding enough minutes for all those capable players. He noted that some of Gonzaga’s best teams went with only seven or eight players who dominated the time on the floor.
“Those kids on the floor had a lot time playing together,” he said.
As for the depth now?
“I love it,” he said. “On any given night it can be somebody new who steps up. The down side is managing minutes. Kids want to play. With rotating in 13 players, it’s hard to get continuity.”
One player who has been rock solid is Haiden Palmer, who leads the teams with 20 points and is second on the team with 6.5 rebounds per game. One statistic Graves hopes to curtail is Palmer’s team-leading average of 31.8 minutes per game.
“There will be nights like that” where Palmer plays most of the game, Graves said. “But we’d like to manage Haiden’s minutes. I’d like to get where she’ll play 18 or 20 minutes.”