For the majority of the season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have shown a spark on offense despite dealing with a number of injuries that left holes in the roster.
While the Zags have done well in stretching their depth and improving their power on offense, particularly in the paint, they’ve struggled to maintain a steady defense.
In Gonzaga’s 73-51 win over Pepperdine on Thursday, the Zags were sluggish on defense in the first half and allowed the Waves to get too close for coach Lisa Fortier’s liking.
The Zags (10-4, 3-0 West Coast Conference) went to zone early in the game, but they quickly developed holes in their defense, allowing the Waves to take several wide-open shots along the perimeter and from the side of the arc. The Waves (6-7, 2-1) took advantage of the relaxed coverage and pulled within two points of the Zags at the end of the first quarter.
“I got into them pretty hard at halftime,” Fortier said.
It was clear that Fortier was not pleased with Gonzaga’s marginal performance against Pepperdine’s shooters, who fought their way to two conference wins last week with great success from distance.
“We came in the locker room and the first thing we said is we need to step it up on defense. Coach came in and she said a few words and I think we responded well,” GU junior forward Jill Barta said. “That second half it felt more like a team defense, a team effort.”
The Zags increased the pressure in the second half and held the Waves to 23 points.
Despite a slow-starting defense, one thing stayed constant – the bigs. Gonzaga’s forwards took over the Kennel as the rest of the Zags struggled to find the basket.
Barta led Gonzaga inside with 27 points and 11 rebounds. It was her eighth double-double of the season, which leads the conference.
Fellow forward Zykera Rice followed with 12 points but shot 3 for 11 from the field and 6 for 12 from the free-throw line. Rice and Barta also took control of Gonzaga’s defense, combining for four blocks and four steals.
The bigs scored all but 10 of Gonzaga’s 34 points in the first half. They combined for 47 total points against the Waves.
Barta powered a couple of runs that helped the Zags pull away for good. She stepped back for Gonzaga’s first 3 of the night roughly 4 minutes into the second quarter. The score started a 7-0 streak that included two inside shots by Barta and senior guard Emma Stach.
Barta kicked off another crucial run at the start of the second half with a layup. She added two jumpers, junior guard Chandler Smith helped with a 3-pointer, and Stach capped off the 11-1 run with a layup.
Paige Fecske ended the run with a long 3 from the top of the arc, Pepperdine’s only field goal in more than 5 minutes.
“We did a nice job taking their two main scorers out of their offense for the most part all evening,” Fortier said.
Pepperdine’s top shooter Yasmine Robinson-Bacote averaged 19.8 points in 12 games before the Zags held her to six points on. Robinson-Bacote finished 4 for 6 at the line and 1 for 7 from the field.
Pepperdine guard Sydne Bordonaro, who came in averaging 8.3 points, scored only two points on a short jumper in the first quarter. Bordonaro, who leads the conference in 3-point percentage, was given only two opportunities from distance and missed both.
The Zags outmatched Pepperdine in nearly every statistical category. They dominated on the glass, pulling down 43 boards as opposed to Pepperdine’s 32.
Gonzaga committed 13 turnovers and converted Pepperdine’s 18 turnovers to 23 points.
The Zags, who have one of the worst 3-point percentages amongst Division I teams, were 3 for 13 from 3-point range. Barta accounted for two of those scores in four attempts.
The win knocked off what was one of the WCC’s three remaining undefeated teams this week.
The Zags, who have not lost in conference, face Loyola Marymount (11-3, 3-0) on Saturday.