LAS VEGAS – The argument could be made that it starts with the name.
Sonja Greinacher prefers to go by “Sunny,” and that is not an appellation that suggests a glowering intimidator or a purveyor of the discreet-but-deadly forearm to clear out space in tight quarters – no matter that she’s 6-foot-4 and such things are expected from a basketball player her size. Fact is, this is not who Sunny Greinacher is at all.
“I’m a stereotype,” she said, betraying some of that sunshine with a laugh.
That is to say, she’s, uh, European. And Euros, we’re assured, like their basketball more mezzo-piano and not so much AC/DC. They often endure the rap that they’re, uh…
“Soft,” she acknowledged.
OK, well, now that it’s out in the open…
Yet as much as anything, it was Greinacher’s velvet hammer that allowed the 19th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to tap-tap-tap out the 81-68 decision Friday that ended San Francisco’s season in the women’s quarterfinal round of the West Coast Conference tournament at the Orleans Arena.
And it may go a long way in determining just how deep the Zags will find their ultimate postseason destination.
“Sunny and Sherbs,” said coach Kelly Graves, throwing reserve forward Lindsay Sherbert into the mix.
“Those are the two kids we really need. I’ve said all along those two are our keys.”
“They’re difficult matchups for people,” he said. “Sunny is such a talented player, and Sherbs is the kind of kid on any given night who can just go off. They give us something not a lot of teams have.”
On Friday, they gave the Zags an alternative.
With scoring leader Haiden Palmer oddly stifled until the game’s later stages, the Bulldogs had to find different ways to stave off the Dons – blown out in two regular-season encounters but the epitome of pesky this night.
Jazmine Redmon, not known as a sharpshooter, was nonetheless nails in that department. Sherbert reprised the inside-outside damage she did to Pacific in GU’s home finale.
And Greinacher strafed the Dons for 22 points, following up the career-high 24 she had in that Pacific game, in a manner that was both stylish and efficient – and, yes, short on thunder.
To say nothing of a complete reversal of the slide her game took in February.
Greinacher had already established her all-WCC credentials when her shot disappeared over a stretch of six games in which she averaged just 5.5 points. And when the shot goes, other slippage can follow.
“I had to dig myself out of it,” she said. “Sometimes, shots don’t fall and it’s mentally a lot harder than anything else. It’s not like all of a sudden you can’t play basketball. But in your head, you have a hole in your confidence.”
That teams have targeted the slender junior forward with more physical play was certainly a contributing factor – and those tests are only going to get greater with each step up the ladder.
Graves knew he wasn’t getting a banger for his recruiting buck when he discovered Greinacher during her year as a German exchange student at Willamette High School in Oregon, where she played on a 27-0 state championship team. She still had two more years of high school back in Germany, so Graves tracked her to Romania to watch her play at the European championships, and then made a visit to her home in Essen.
“I remember the day she signed I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to be relevant for a few more years,’ ” Graves said.
Having spent a year in the states already, Greinacher wasn’t going to be blindsided by culture shock. Basketball shock was another matter.
“That was Kayla Standish’s senior year,” she said. “I spent lots of time getting beat up in the post.”
And getting told by Graves how soft she was.
“All the time,” he confessed. “But she is what she is. I need to lighten up.”
Obviously, basketball is not always played with a bludgeon. Graves said Greinacher’s “basketball IQ is as high as anyone I’ve coached.” She has a nice midrange shot that allows her to take stronger defenders outside and can create other opportunities with quickness.
You know, the European way.
“Part of it is heritage,” Graves insisted. “They just don’t play as physically in Europe. We’ve made a commitment to her to allow her to go play with the German senior national team, so she doesn’t stick around in the summer – and that’s the stuff she needs. She needs a good old summer at GU lifting weights and getting after it – like Rocky in ‘Rocky IV.’ ”
Or maybe they could just start calling her Rocky, and hope a little of that attitude rubs off.