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GU’s Tinkle evolves into scoring guard

When the season began, the Gonzaga women’s basketball team’s half-court offense more resembled a game of keep-away than players coordinating an attack. Lisa Fortier began her head coaching career without two senior guards, Haiden Palmer and Jazmine Redmon, who were leaders that previous teams could rely upon for scoring, defense and hustle. As a result, the Zags (10-4, 3-0 WCC) lost some early games as they struggled to find consistency among new players. After the serious knee injury to senior wing Lindsay Sherbert, Fortier turned to a career role player, Elle Tinkle, who has blossomed into a scoring threat. The 6-foo-2 junior guard Tinkle is third on the team in scoring at 10.1 per game. But she’s averaged 19 points a game in three big West Coast Conference wins over BYU, San Diego and Portland. “As a team we are starting to play well with each other,” Tinkle said. “Everyone knows their roles and they are not trying to do too much.” In addition to Tinkle, Fortier praised the play of transfer guard Georgia Stirton, who has gained confidence in handling the ball which has vastly improved the half-court offense. She’s also adding to the scoring load (6.7 points per game in conference) and her rebound and assist averages have also gone up in the past three games. During that same stretch, Keani Albanez has also more than doubled her steals average to more than 5 a game. Tinkle said all those steals turn into fast breaks and points on the other end. “This year, we kind of had to figure out our leadership roles,” she said. “In the past we had Haiden, Jaz and Keani. That’s who we tried to get set up and look for. This year, I see myself just as capable of scoring.” Before arriving at Gonzaga, Tinkle said she played any position her team needed. She averaged 16.9 points and 10.2 rebounds her senior year at Missoula’s Big Sky High School. “I was more of an attack-the-basket type of player and a midrange shooter,” she said. “All the (Gonzaga) coaches wanted me to elevate my game to score anywhere on the floor. But I didn’t have the consistency I needed.” As a result, Tinkle only averaged a few minutes and just over two points per game her first two years under Kelly Graves. As she worked on her outside shot, she earned more confidence. She’s now hitting 40 percent of her 3-pointers for the year. “I’d be just as fine not taking a shot as long as my team is winning,” she said. “But if I’m seen as an offensive threat, it will spread the defense out more and help my teammates.” With her emergence, the team appears to have overcome some of its early problems. “We did need some time to figure it out,” Tinkle said. “What better time to do that than when we start WCC play?” California bound Gonzaga hits the road this week to take on San Francisco (9-6, 0-4) and Santa Clara 5-8, 0-4). “I think we’re shooting the ball well,” Fortier said. “We are looking for the extra pass and not trying to rush. She praised the play of Tinkle, senior forward Sunny Greinacher, Albanez, Shelby Cheslek and Emma Wolfram, who all scored in double figures in the win over Portland. “If we had to rely on one person (for scoring) then they’d have to score a bunch more points,” she said. “It’s nice to know there are other players who can step it up.” Vandals invade Cheney The Idaho women’s basketball team travels north this weekend to take on new conference foe Eastern Washington. The Vandals (7-6, 1-1 Big Sky) switched leagues after winning the Western Athletic Conference last year. The Eagles (9-4, 2-0) appear to be playing their best basketball of the season after wins over Florida, Idaho State and Weber State. Cougars get tested After dropping a tough game to No. 18 Arizona State on Monday, the Cougars (10-3, 1-1 Pac-12) return home this week to take on California (10-3, 2-0) on Friday and the always tough No. 15 Stanford (10-4, 2-0) on Sunday.
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