Some New Year’s resolutions depend less on willpower than on sheer luck.
Asked on Wednesday about her team’s recent return to health, Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier exclaimed, “Oh, gosh!” and promptly rapped her knuckles on the McCarthey Athletic Center floor.
It was as if to say, “Here’s to a healthy new year.”
So far, so good.
For the first time since November, the Bulldogs are nearly whole. Point guard Laura Stockton’s face mask is the only vestige of the ever-changing lineups that tested Fortier and her players through an up-and-down preseason.
At Wednesday’s practice, the Bulldogs were full of energy, partly because there were so many of them.
That depth – tested by injuries to starters Jill Barta, Emma Stach and Stockton – told in last week’s West Coast Conference road sweep of Pacific and Santa Clara.
A case in point: Freshman forward Jenn Wirth, who saw the court for a combined 38 minutes last week, shot 9 for 13 from the field and averaged 10 points.
A year ago, she and twin sister LeeAnne were still in high school. Now they’re playing home games in front of 5,000 fans at the Kennel, which will be rocking Thursday night as Pepperdine and GU match 2-0 conference records.
On Saturday, surprising Loyola Marymount (also 2-0 in the WCC), will test the Bulldogs. Jenn Wirth already knows the expectations for the defending WCC champs and preseason favorites.
“We know we have a target on our backs,” Wirth said Wednesday.
She also knows that the coaches have that back covered.
“Whatever we do in practice, I just know how to transfer it to the game,” said Wirth, who’s averaging 5.5 points and almost three boards for the Bulldogs (9-4).
Her potential is just being tapped, said Fortier, who compared Wirth to leading scorer Jill Barta and former star Sunny Greinacher.
“She was just aggressive,” Fortier said about last week’s road trip. “She was ready to shoot and didn’t look to pass in the high post. … We’re teaching her that your first look is always to the basket.”
As usual, the Bulldogs expect a few different looks this week.
“Every other game it seems we see a totally different style, so we have to morph a bit and we’ve proven that we can do it,” Fortier said.
Pepperdine, under first-year coach DeLisha Milton-Jones, is 2-0 in the WCC for the first time in six years.
“They like to drive it at you,” said Fortier, who also must find a way to hinder Sydney Bordonaro and her 49-percent shooting from beyond the arc.
GU, a conference-leading 65th in RPI, will counter with what’s looking like the best inside game in the WCC. At Santa Clara, Barta posted her seventh double-double of the year with 21 points and 11 boards. Zykera Rice added 10 points and Chandler Smith had nine.
Over their last four games, the Bulldogs own a plus-18.3 rebounding margin.
Gonzaga’s long-range shooting (23.9 percent) is still among the worst in Division I, but Fortier points out that her players are beating zones with medium-range jumpers and a patient half-court offense.
“People look at our shooting stats and think zone, but I think we’re shooting pretty well,” Fortier said.