Gonzaga’s showdown with BYU has become one of the most anticipated games of the regular season.
Even the newbies have bought into the hype.
“It is like a rivalry game,” freshman guard Jill Townsend said Tuesday before practice. “Both teams step up big when we play each other, so I know it’s going to be a fun game.”
“Fun” might be just the word head coach Lisa Fortier would use to describe a road trip that has resembled something similar to what she thinks her Bulldogs could expect come March.
“When you have two quality opponents … that’s what you’re looking for,” Fortier said.
Gonzaga is coming off a 63-44 win at San Diego on Thursday, a historically tough place for the Zags to pull out a win. The victory stretched Gonzaga’s winning streak to 13 games, 11 in the West Coast Conference.
Next stop is Provo, Utah, on Saturday for what could be Gonzaga’s toughest game of the season.
It’s the first meeting between Gonzaga and BYU this season. The Zags hold a 13-9 series lead over the second-place Cougars, who are three games behind Gonzaga in the WCC standings.
Gonzaga (18-4, 11-0) will face a daunting defense at BYU (13-9, 8-3) led by forward Sara Hamson. The 6-foot-7 freshman leads the Cougars on the glass with 6.8 rebounds and is second in the country with 80 blocked shots.
The Cougars are ranked eighth in the nation with 6.4 blocks per game and average four more blocks per game than their opponents.
But BYU will have its own storm to weather against the Zags, who have dominated their opponents on defense in recent games. The Zags have forced their opponents to at least 20 turnovers in five of their last seven games, the most coming against Santa Clara on Jan. 20 when Gonzaga forced 23.
Last year’s WCC Player of the Year, Cassie Devashrayee, will test Gonzaga’s defense for most of the game. The senior leads the conference with 20.2 points per game and averages 38.6 minutes.
Breanna Chase and Malia Nawahine follow in double digits, averaging 13.6 and 10 points, respectively.
Gonzaga, which moved up to a season-high 51st in the RPI this week, last won at BYU in 2015 when Elle Tinkle dominated with 20 points. The Cougars have not suffered a loss in their 23 home games since.