In a game in which Loyola Marymount never challenged, the No. 20 Gonzaga women’s basketball team raced Saturday to an overpowering 88-51 victory.
The same team that took the Bulldogs to overtime on Jan. 23 in Los Angeles looked overmatched in every aspect of the game as Gonzaga (22-3, 12-1 West Coast Conference) cruised to its 12th straight victory.
“I thought we came out and played really well,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “That team took us to overtime in their house a couple weeks ago. We were fortunate to get out of there alive.”
Graves said his team, which held LMU to 22.7 percent shooting in the first half, played as well as he could have hoped.
The Lions “struggled for every basket,” he said. “When we needed to make stops, we did. And, our offense flowed. It was a complete effort.”
Senior guard Haiden Palmer, who was two assists away from a triple-double during Thursday’s 86-51 dismantling of Pepperdine, scored a game-high 27 points. She also dished out seven assists and had two rebounds.
“I think they might have been the same team” from the overtime win in Los Angeles, Palmer said. “I think we were the different team. We are just playing with a lot more confidence … and fundamentally sound.”
The only time the Lions (7-16, 4-8) held a tie was 90 seconds into the game when Emily Ben-Jumbo hit two free throws to make it 2-all.
It was a rout from then on, as the defense forced 22 turnovers that Gonzaga converted into 29 points. Behind 53 percent shooting and the scoring of Palmer, Gonzaga raced to a 46-20 lead at halftime.
Gonzaga didn’t let up in the second half and eventually led by 43 points after one of Palmer’s layups.
“It’s a lot of fun, especially at home when the crowd is getting into it,” Palmer said.
Graves pulled Palmer in the second half after she had scored her 27th point. The senior guard from Moreno Valley, Calif., wasn’t about to complain.
“We were up 30. It’s always good to get time for other players,” she said. “We want them to get some confidence, too.”
Despite scoring 88 points, junior wing Lindsay Sherbert, who scored 11, was the only other Zag to score in double digits.
Graves praised the seven points, six rebounds and four assists from sophomore center Shelby Cheslek, who played only 15 minutes.
Sophomore Shaniqua Nilles came off the bench and provided instant offense. She scored seven points in 6 minutes in the first half and finished the game with nine points. Keani Albanez scored eight as Gonzaga shot 50.8 percent from the floor for the game.
“We all talked about it. We wanted to make a statement,” said Nilles, from West Valley. “The last time we played, we said it was a fluke. We really came out and showed it tonight.”
Graves said he was told this week that Gonzaga is the only Top 25 program other than Louisville that has 11 players averaging double-digit minutes per game.
“We have a lot of really good players. It’s hard to find minutes for all of them,” he said.
Gonzaga hits the road for games against two games next week. The Bulldogs play Thursday at San Diego (19-5, 8-5) and Saturday at BYU (19-5, 9-4).
The last three conference games will be at home in McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We are in a great position and our players are rested,” Graves said.