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Emma Wolfram, Gonzaga women have a healthy shot at advancing in NCAAs

UPDATED: Wed., March 15, 2017, 9:09 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Emma Wolfram dives on the ground to battle San Francisco forward Hashima Carothers for a loose ball in their WCC semifinal game. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Emma Wolfram dives on the ground to battle San Francisco forward Hashima Carothers for a loose ball in their WCC semifinal game. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Emma Wolfram is healthy and the Gonzaga women are back in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s no coincidence.

Two years ago, the Bulldogs reached the Sweet 16 partly because of a breakout postseason from the versatile 6-foot-5 post from Kamloops, British Columbia.

After the season ended, Wolfram had shoulder surgery. Recovery dragged into her redshirt sophomore year, but she finally saw action eight games into the season – for one game and 8 minutes of playing time.

During a shooting drill at the next practice, she jumped for a rebound during a shooting drill and landed with a sharp pain in her left knee.

“I thought I was ready to go, to contribute to the team again,” Wolfram said. “Then I went down with my knee.”

The diagnosis: an ACL tear, which cost her almost the entire 2015-16 season. It also cost her a bit of that infectious smile, the one that caused GU coach Lisa Fortier call Wolfram “one of the happiest people I know.”

Wolfram hit rock-bottom a year ago. Her knee was in a brace and the Bulldogs were struggling, as guard Elle Tinkle missed most of the season and forward Kiara Kudron was out for most of the West Coast Conference season.

Not surprisingly, GU failed to repeat at WCC regular-season champions and missed the NCAAs.

All three are back now, Tinkle and Kudron for their final postseason at GU, and Wolfram, who’s eager to contribute.

Going into Saturday’s first-round NCAA game against Oklahoma, Wolfram is averaging 15 minutes and just more than four points a game.

But she’s getting better when it matters most, scoring in double digits in three of her last four games.

“To be playing fully healthy, I’m just so excited,” Wolfram said. “It’s called March Madness for a reason – we’re an 11 seed, and we’ve had some luck with that in the past.”

Actually, luck had little to do with the Zags’ remarkable NCAA run in March 2015. Tinkle, Keani Albanez and Sunny Greinacher led the way, but Wolfram came up big in the subregionals in Corvallis.

Averaging 6.8 points that year as a redshirt freshman, she shot 53 percent against George Washington and Oregon State. She scored a career-high 17 to help Gonzaga beat the third-seeded Beavers on their home court.

“She’s one of our hardest-working players and tries to do whatever she’s asked to do, and she has a great basketball IQ,” said Fortier.

“We’re really happy for her, and who doesn’t want to root for a player like that,” Fortier said.

Wolfram brings an inside presence along with her outside shooting touch. She’s also one of those true back-to-the-basket players, which complements the other GU defenders.

Wolfram is getting better in all phases. In her last six games, she has become a force inside, averaging nine blocks and almost three blocks.

“I like to think that we’re playing our best defense of the season,” Wolfram said. “Hopefully, that will fuel our offense too.”