Before the season began, Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier knew she could count on a few things from this year’s Zags: strength in the paint, speed in the backcourt and lots of depth.
“But honestly, we didn’t know what our starting lineup was going to be,” Fortier said Sunday after a 76-53 home win over Washington State.
Turns out it doesn’t matter.
For the second straight game, the Zags thrived in the paint (outscoring WSU 38-28), points off turnovers (19-8) and especially when Fortier turned to her young bench.
There was sophomore Jill Townsend, hitting 5 of 7 shots for a team-high 13 points, true freshman Melody Kempton with 10 rebounds, and sophomore forward Jenn Wirth, backing up twin sister LeeAnne with eight points and a pair of assists in 21 minutes.
All three saw 20-plus minutes of action, and Gonzaga’s bench outscored their Cougars counterparts 25-10.
The Zags also dished out 17 assists, which along with the bench strength produced some bizarre stats. GU attempted just four 3-point shots – the fewest in Fortier’s five seasons as head coach – and had seven players scoring at least eight points, but none more than Townsend’s 13.
LeeAnne Wirth added 12 points, Katie Campbell 11 and Zykera Rice and Laura Stockton 10 each.
The parts aren’t interchangeable, it only seems like it during this 9-1 season, the best 10-game start in program history.
And they’re having fun, no matter the numbers.
“I love coaching this team right now, not just because we’re winning, but the way the players are showing up for each other,” Fortier said.
On Sunday, they did that even when many of their fans didn’t, probably because the GU men were losing their first game of the year while the women were warming up.
Announced attendance at the Kennel was 5,571, but several hundred seats were vacant for the women’s second straight game against a school from the Pac-12.
And just as they did against Stanford on Dec. 2, the Zags got off to a slow start. GU showed little in the way of offense until late in the first quarter. By then, the Zags had missed 16 of 19 shots and trailed 13-6.
Facing a seldom-seen WSU zone that also included pressure on the perimeter, the Zags, “were stopping ourselves a little,” Fortier said.
“Give credit to WSU’s defense, but we weren’t moving the ball well, and taking some shots that were a little ill-advised and not in rhythm,” Fortier said.
However, the Zags earned 10 offensive boards in the first 10 minutes.
“That set the tone,” said first-year WSU coach Kamie Ethridge, who saw a three-game winning streak end.
“They were by far the more the more aggressive team and the more physical team, and we didn’t like any of that,” Ethridge said.
The Cougars – playing in only their second true road game of the season – had even less to like in the second quarter, as GU was 10 of 15 from the field and ruled the boards 21-13.
WSU trailed only 34-24 at the break, but Wirth and Katie Campbell hit early jumpers in the third quarter, forcing a timeout that Ethridge hoped would stop the slide.
Instead, GU held the Cougars to 4-of-14 shooting to take a 54-34 lead into the fourth quarter.
“WSU was told all the things they needed to do … but it was one of our best third quarters this season,” Fortier said.
The lead stretched to 28 before the benches emptied and both teams pondered the coming week.
For the Cougars (4-5), it’s the realization, according to Ethridge, that “this is where we are … we play with a certain style that I would say is less physical.”
“We’re going to have to play teams that have a great high-low presence,” said Ethridge, whose club plays Kansas on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas.
GU gets a week off before a nonconference game at Missouri State next Sunday, then closes its nonconference season at home against Idaho on Dec. 20.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” said LeeAnne Wirth.
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