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Gonzaga, Eastern Washington women work out kinks before Thursday’s matchup

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 28, 2017, 7:01 p.m.

Jill Barta and Chandler Smith (foreground) are leading Gonzaga in scoring this season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Jill Barta and Chandler Smith (foreground) are leading Gonzaga in scoring this season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

After two weeks on the road, the Gonzaga women are still finding themselves.

So is Eastern Washington.

Now the Bulldogs and Eagles find themselves facing each other in a compelling nonconference basketball game Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“We’re talented, but we’re still learning each others’ strengths,” Eastern coach Wendy Schuller said. “In certain ways I like our innocence – it’s a blessing and a curse.”

Lisa Fortier said the same thing Tuesday, after her young Bulldogs went 1-2 at the Play4Kay Showcase in Las Vegas to fall to 2-3 overall.

“We just need to keep getting better,” Fortier said.

Progress took a hit last weekend with a shoulder injury to starting point guard Laura Stockton, who missed two games in Las Vegas and is out indefinitely.

“I don’t think it’s anything long term – hopefully we’ll have her back sooner rather than later,” Fortier said.

In the meantime, sophomore Jessie Loera will get her third consecutive start.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Loera said. “I have to start the game well and bring everyone together, like a point guard should do it.”

The game also will feature two of the best forwards in the region in Eastern’s Delaney Hodgins and GU’s Jill Barta.

Hodgins, who averages 19 points and 8.2 rebounds, just became the third Eagle to surpass 1,500 points. The Preseason Big Sky Most Valuable Player also leads the Eagles in steals and blocks.

“She’s at her best when she doesn’t force things,” said Schuller, whose club is coming off a 61-41 win over Utah Valley.

The Eagles are getting solid play from guards Violet Kapri Morrow (11.4 ppg) and Symone Starks (42 percent on 3-pointers), and forward Mariah Cunningham.

The Eagles lost one-sided games at Fresno State and No. 10 Oregon, took BYU to the limit in a four-point defeat and topped Air Force in overtime.

“We just have to let the game come to us, be comfortable in our own skin, and right now we’re still getting there,” said Schuller, who has nine underclassmen on her roster.

That’s doubly true for Gonzaga, which has five true freshmen and two other newcomers. As her young team jells, much of the load has fallen on Barta.

Too much, perhaps.

The 6-foot-3 junior has dominated the GU stat line, averaging 19.6 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line.

“That’s not my preference,” Fortier said. “We need to share to wealth.”

Barta also is the Zags’ top outside shooter at 40 percent. Barta often was triple-teamed in the paint in Las Vegas.

“That makes it hard to kick the ball out,” Fortier said.

Junior wing Chandler Smith (6 for 18) has been GU’s only other solid long-range shooter. The rest of the team is 7 for 63 (11.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

“We’re getting good looks. It’s a matter of knocking them down and getting out of our own heads,” Fortier said.