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Gonzaga women roll past Nicholls State in season opener

If the Gonzaga women needed a bit more confidence for their young roster after last week’s exhibition blowout win over Corban, they got just what they ordered.

The sophomores proved their presence on the GU roster as the Bulldogs routed the Nicholls State Colonels 78-46 in their season opener Saturday afternoon in front of a nearly full arena at McCarthy Athletic Center.

“It’s going to be a tough class … they’re really showing that they have gained a lot of our trust and that they know how to play and they’re not typical sophomores,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said.

During last year’s injury-plagued season that kept the Gonzaga women from winning the West Coast Conference for the first time in 11 years, Fortier’s not-so-typical players got plenty of playing time and experience as freshmen to be a force this season.

“They got their feet wet last year,” Fortier said. “They’re talented. I think they all can do a lot of different things and they showed up tonight.”

GU’s five sophomores, two of whom are starters, combined for 37 points. Zhane Templeton led the pack with a game-high 14 points and was 5 for 8 from the field. Forward Jill Barta was 3 for 7 from the field. Barta and Chandler Smith combined for 12 rebounds.

The Zags overpowerd the Colonels in a lopsided first half, with the Bulldogs leading by as much as 35 points in the second quarter.

GU applied early pressure on struggling Nicholls State, an NCAA Division I team from Thibodaux, Louisiana. Senior guard Elle Tinkle took the reins right out of the gate. She hit a 3-point jumper in the first 20 seconds and scored the Zags’ first 11 points, including two more 3-pointers.

“They (the coaches) challenged me with coming out with a little more aggressiveness … and that’s what I tried to do,” said Tinkle, who played only 10 games last year after suffering a season-ending knee injury.

“I was super excited to see Elle score all those points on the way out. She deserved it,” sophomore forward Zykera Rice said.

GU kept the Colonels (0-1) off the scoreboard for the first 6 minutes to make the score 20-0. Nicholls State finally got on the board with a 3-pointer after missing its first seven field-goal attempts.

Fortier pulled Tinkle off the floor with 2 minutes left in the first after she drew two fouls. But the dominating start gave Fortier the option to start turning to her bench for help on the floor. All 13 Zags got time and 11 played double-digit minutes. The bench scored 41 points for GU.

“It was huge to have everyone make an appearance, and not only just make an appearance, but to have an impact on the game in some way,” Tinkle said.

The Bulldogs dominated in nearly every category, shooting 46 percent from the field (28 of 61) and outrebounding the Colonels 54-30. The Zags hit 12 of 26 shots from beyond the arc, with Tinkle leading with three makes. Freshman guard Jessie Loera got the crowd up on its feet as she put up the Zags’ 10th 3-pointer near the end of the third.

The Colonels shot 22 percent from the field and hit only 4 of 24 3-point attempts.

Gonzaga faces a tougher test against UC Irvine at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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