With his suit coat off and tie loosened, Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves proudly proclaimed the 68-42 drubbing of BYU Thursday night as one of the best defensive efforts he’d ever seen inside the Kennel.
The Cougars came into the game at McCarthey Athletic Center with all-world center Jennifer Hamson. The 6-7 senior was averaging 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. She ended the loss with five points and two rebounds.
“Jennifer Hamson is a great player. It helped that she spent most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, but we got her in foul trouble,” Graves said. “By far, it was one of the best defensive efforts I’ve ever seen here.”
Gonzaga (13-3, 3-1) held BYU to 30 percent shooting from the floor and 14 percent from the 3-point arc. The Bulldog’s went inside for most of their damage as 6-4 junior forward Sunny Greinacher had a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds.
She said she dreamt about the game a couple nights before. She wouldn’t say what the dream entailed.
“When a team has a player like Hamson, who is so tall and good, it kind of becomes personal,” Greinacher said. “You want to show that you are a great post player, as well.”
With Hamson struggling – she wore a mask after Tuesday surgery to repair a broken nose – BYU (13-3, 3-2) relied on the shooting of guard Lexi Eaton.
The sophomore, at times, was the BYU offense. She scored a team-high 18 points and she had five rebounds. The next closest players were Hamson and Makenzie Morrison with five each.
“BYU is one of the best offensive teams in the nation,” Graves said. “I praised my assistant coaches. They really did a terrific job preparing our team.”
As they have been known to do, the Zags struggled to score early with several close shots rimming out. But Gonzaga’s defense made scoring tough for BYU.
With Hamson largely gone, the first half belonged to Greinacher.
The forward from Essen, Germany, routinely found her way to the rim and scored a team-high 13 points to lead all scorers in the first half.
After BYU scored first to start the game, the Zags took the lead with a layup by Keani Albanez, who was fouled and converted, to make it 5-2.
The Zags extended their lead until a run, fueled by a 3-point shot by BYU’s Eaton, made it 16-13 with about seven minutes to play in the half.
Baskets by Albanez and Lindsay Sherbert – who both scored seven points in the first half – extended the Gonzaga lead to nine points. Greinacher ended the first-half scoring with a three-point play to put Gonzaga up 32-21.
The Zags never let up in the second half, leading at one point by 29 points with just under five minutes to play.
Albanez and Sherbert, who usually do most of their damage from beyond the 3-point arc, found points inside and they both scored 13.
Haiden Palmer, the team’s leading scorer, sat most of the first half in foul trouble, but played stingy defense, including a block against BYU’s 6-2 Morgan Bailey. Palmer finished with six points and Danielle Walter, starting in place of an ailing Jazmine Redmon, had seven.
Gonzaga plays again at 2 p.m. Saturday against No. 24 San Diego, which lost for the first time this year on Wednesday in a 72-51 setback against Portland.
“They are just tough as nails,” Graves said of the Toreros. “They are as good as any team, fundamentally, in the league. We are familiar with San Diego. They are familiar with us. It just comes down to who executes.”