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Gonzaga women’s basketball showcases mix of veterans, newcomers at FanFest

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 14, 2017

Zykera Rice reached across to Jill Barta and gave her a playful nudge on the shoulder, as if telling Barta that she had no chance at getting the first possession.

Barta gave her a quick smirk back just before the official raised the ball between the two forwards.

Much like last season, Barta was ready to steal the show.

The 6-3 redshirt junior easily jumped above Rice and tipped the ball back to her team dressed down in Gonzaga white jerseys.

In the Zags’ blue and white scrimmage game at the women’s FanFest on Saturday, it quickly became the day of Barta.

In the first quarter inside the revamped McCarthey Athletic Center, Barta reminded the hundreds of fans how powerful she is in the post and beyond the arc. She started her scoring at the line, hitting both free throws, before making back-to-back layups that gave her team a nine-point advantage.

She wrapped up the four-minute first quarter with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, drawing an instant roar from the crowd.

Barta finished with 20 points, including a perfect 7 of 7 at the line, to lead her Zags on the white team to a 37-27 win.

“She’s been such an offensive staple for us the past couple years,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said. “A lot of people have to worry about her and where she is on the court.”

Barta was all over the Kennel on Saturday. She dominated inside the paint for five baskets in the 16-minute scrimmage and pulled down a game-high six rebounds.

The Fairfield, Montana, native even shined in a quick one-on-one battle of the 3s against veteran guard Emma Stach in the 3-point shooting finale. Stach fell one 3-pointer short of Barta, who hit five straight baskets before finishing the minute of shooting with 15 makes.

“We’ve been practicing for two, three weeks (together),” Barta said. “It’s awesome to come out here and show everyone what we have.”

The annual FanFest was a chance for fans to see Barta and several other familiar faces from last year’s squad, but they also got a first good look at Fortier’s crew of freshmen that will hopefully add to a depleted frontcourt.

The Zags are missing some height in the post after losing Kiara Kudron to graduation and Emma Wolfram to a leg injury. Fortier filled the vacant spots with five lengthy freshmen forwards, four of which break the 6-foot mark.

“It feels funny,” Fortier said of her team dynamic this season. “It seems like it’s a different mix. We have all returning point guards, so you feel kind of veteran … but at the same time we have four or five new players out there at all times.”

Right now, Fortier is looking to her veterans to help her crew of underclassmen get up to speed before the season starts next month.

“It’s just a lot of teaching right now,” said Stach, who is entering her final season with the Zags. The freshmen “are asking a lot of questions. (We’re) just stepping it up for them, helping them out with new sets and new drills and stuff. (We’re) just leading them the right way.”

Along with learning new drills and adapting to new coaching techniques, Fortier’s new Zags finally got a taste of what it’s like to play inside the Kennel for their first college FanFest.

“Our freshmen were a little bit nervous,” Fortier said. “It’s good to get that under your belt, and now they can say they’ve done it. They went out there and shot it off the board once or twice, and now they’re ready to move forward.”

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