Gonzaga senior Shaniqua Nilles hit the mark Tuesday when asked about the Bulldogs’ recent struggles.
Referencing last week’s 66-47 loss at Saint Mary’s, Nilles said: “You can’t win a lot of games when you shoot 29 percent.”
Indeed, GU (17-11 overall and 9-7 in the West Coast Conference) is out of the running for the WCC title title mostly because the Bulldogs’ field goal percentage has plummeted this year.
Going into Thursday’s home game against San Diego, GU is shooting 40.2 percent in conference games; that’s down dramatically from the 45.1 percent mark posted by last year’s Sweet 16 squad.
The decline in 3-point shooting against WCC opponents is even more dramatic: 38.3 percent last year, only 31.6 percent this season. At the foul line, GU was hitting 76.8 percent last year; this season, it’s only 69.8 percent.
“It comes down to a confidence issue,” Nilles said. “It’s bad when you’ve had some bad shooting nights in the past. When you miss a few, it’s ‘oh, no, not again.’ Then we get a little tight because we want to make them so bad.”
The reasons for the decline are obvious:
Graduation meant the loss of Keani Albanez and Sunny Greinacher, big-time playmakers who drew plenty of attention and left the other GU shooters with better looks at the basket;
Also, season-ending injuries to Elle Tinkle (a 51 percent shooter last year vs. WCC foes) and Emma Wolfram (42 percent).
The remaining players are forced to work harder for shots, and the numbers reflect it. Guard Georgia Stirton, a 46.7 percent shooter last year vs. the WCC, is down to 40.6 percent. Likewise, Nilles, guard Emma Stach and post Shelby Cheslek have seen their percentages decline.
However, the rise of freshman forward Jill Barta and the inside threat of the 6-foot-5 Cheslek should give the other Bulldogs more open looks, reasons coach Lisa Fortier.
Over the last seven games, Barta has become the focal point of the GU offense, averaging 23 points during that span.
“Teams have to game-plan for those guys, which means that our guards are more open,” Fortier said. “We have to make sure those guards are ready to knock down shots.”