Perhaps the rest of the West Coast Conference is out of its depth – at least compared to Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs are alone in first place in the WCC for many reasons, but a deep bench is one of them.
Case in point: In their 83-61 win over Pepperdine on Saturday, not a single Zag played more than 26 minutes, while four Waves starters logged at least 30 minutes each.
Fresh legs carried the day: a seven-point game late in the first half turned into a runaway in the second half. In that game, three of the top five starters came off the bench.
“We made some great adjustments at halftime,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said.
That’s also a function of versatility. For example, guard Chandler Smith, from Brewster, Washington, saw action at guard, wing and post. She finished with four rebounds in just 13 minutes.
All five of the Zags’ top reserves are making significant contributions:
- Smith is shooting almost 40 percent from 3-point range in WCC play while logging 14 1/2 minutes a game;
- Guard Makenlee Williams (14 minutes a game) is bringing energy off the bench along with a big 3-point threat;
- True freshman point guard Jessie Loera is spelling starter Laura Stockton with 10.6 minutes a game, and she has 24 assists;
- Forward Zykera Rice is averaging 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in just 8.6 minutes;
- Shooting guard Zhane Templeton could be the most efficient player off the bench, playing just 6.8 minutes but shooting better than 40 percent from long range in WCC play.
The Bulldogs (17-4 overall, 8-2 in the WCC) host second-place BYU on Thursday.
Cougars hit the road
Overcoming brutal injuries, Washington State got a big lift last weekend.
Now the Cougars hope to carry the momentum of an 84-79 win over Cal on Sunday into another road trip.
Coping with season-ending injuries to leading scorers Borislava Hristova, Chanelle Molina and Louise Brown, the Cougars got double-digit scoring from five different players to overcome the Golden Bears.
The Cougars’ front court came up big with a combined 48 points as senior Ivana Kmetovska scored a career-best 16 while sophomores Maria Kostourkova and Nike McClure added season-best performances with 12 and 10, respectively.
For McClure, the 10 in the paint tied a career best mark as well.
“That’s the most consistently our front line has played all year,” coach June Daugherty said Tuesday. “It certainly brings an enormous amount of confidence to our front line.”
That confidence will be tested with a road trip to Colorado on Friday and Utah two days later. WSU is 1-7 in true road games this year, winning only at Oregon on New Year’s Day.
“We’ve played really well on the road at times, then other times you’re not sure what team that is out there,” Daugherty said.
“But if you’re a focused basketball player, you don’t care where you play.”
Eagles rely on defense
Eastern Washington is still in contention for a high finish in the Big Sky Conference mainly because of its defense.
The Eagles are giving up just 65 points per game, fourth-best in the conference, and not coincidentally that’s where they are in the standings.
Eastern is 6-3 in the conference and 11-9 overall going into a challenging road trip at Sacramento State and Portland State. Both teams are 4-4 and nipping at the Eagles’ heels at the midpoint of the season.
EWU is coming off a 72-61 home loss Saturday to third-place Montana State.
“Give them credit, they knocked shots down, but it feels like we’re in a little bit of an offensive funk right now,” coach Wendy Schuller said. “We’ve got to work our way out of it, because this is not the time of the year you afford to have that.”
The exception was junior forward Delaney Hodgins, who had back-to-back doubles against Montana and MSU. Hodgins opened the week with an 18-point, 10-rebound effort against the Grizzlies and followed that up with a 10-point, 13-board performance against the Bobcats.
Hodgins has 10 career double-doubles, while the 13 rebounds are a season high for the forward.
Meanwhile, point guard Tisha Phillips has averaged 18 points in her last three games, including a career-high 26 against the Griz.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.