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Gonzaga women turn up pressure to ease past Eastern Washington

Back home after almost a month, the Gonzaga women also got back to basics Thursday night.

The Bulldogs crashed the glass, forced turnovers and basically forced Eastern Washington out of its comfort zone in a 69-45 nonconference basketball win at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“We wreaked havoc,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.

Coming off a 1-2 weekend in Las Vegas that also cost them starting point guard Laura Stockton, the Bulldogs were feeling a little pressure going into the game at the Kennel.

Instead, they redirected that pressure against the Eagles, who struggled against the press. Even when EWU broke the press, the Bulldogs recovered and held Eastern to 36-percent shooting.

The key player was senior guard Emma Stach, who embraced the task of shutting down high-scoring EWU forward Delaney Hodgins.

“I like the challenge,” said Stach, who is the Zags’ best perimeter defender, according to Fortier.

“When you get to play against the best player on the other team, that’s an honor,” Stach said

Stach rose to the challenge, as Hodgins – who came in averaging 19 points – was held to 11 on 3-for-8 shooting.

“And when I got beat, I had great teammates who helped out,” said Stach, who filled the stat line with nine points, six boards and four assists.

“I’ve always said, our offense starts with our defense,” Fortier said.

At the other end, GU’s aggression in the paint paid off with a season-high 40 foul shots, the most since getting 48 against Idaho State in 2014.

“I am proud of how we attacked,” Fortier said. “We knew they were going to play physically and tough, and we controlled what we could and took 40 free throws, and I will take that any day.”

By game’s end, Eastern’s starting five had amassed 20 personal fouls, with forwards Uriah Howard and Mariah Cunningham fouling out.

Forward Jill Barta led GU with 19 points and 11 rebounds – both game highs – and she and Zykera Rice combined for 21 foul shots.

“She’s been really consistent,” Fortier said of Barta. “What this team needs is rebounding.”

The Bulldogs (3-3) got more than enough, outrebounding the Eagles 43-25 and 21-8 on the offensive glass.

GU struggled in the early going. With Stockton out for the third consecutive game, the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times in the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, GU turned the tables with a half-court press that forced several turnovers and turned a five-point lead into a 32-16 advantage in just three minutes.

“That really got our momentum going,” said Jessie Loera, who’s starting while Stockton recovers from what Fortier described as a “minor” shoulder injury.

Eastern struggled to recover.

“Once things weren’t going well, we just dropped our heads,” said Eastern coach Wendy Schuller, whose club dropped to 2-4.

The Eagles made one more run, cutting the deficit to 39-29 midway through the third quarter. The Zags halted the skid and went on a 13-6 run of their own to lead 52-35 going into the fourth quarter.

GU hosts Portland State on Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern hosts Boise State on Sunday at 1 p.m.