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Gonzaga women hoping to power past Idaho in the paint

Idaho’s Mikayla Ferenz’s shot is blocked by Northern Colorado’s Kianna Williams during last season’s  Big Sky Tournament championship game in Reno, Nev. (Tom R. Smedes / AP)

The Gonzaga women expect to dominate inside, but Idaho still has an outside chance to knock off the the 21st-ranked Bulldogs on Thursday night.

The Vandals are 3-5 but have one of the most prolific outside-shooting games in the nation going into both teams’ final nonconference game.

Gonzaga expects to dominate the paint at the McCarthey Athletic Center, but Idaho is sinking an average of almost 11 3-point shots a game, the fifth-best mark in the nation.

Led by the “Splash Sisters,” Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce, nearly half of Idaho’s field-goal attempts are 3s, as 240 of 519 field-goal attempts are from beyond the arc.

And why not? Idaho shoots almost as well from outside the paint (35.8 percent) as inside (40.7 percent).

Ferenz, the Big Sky Conference preseason MVP, is living up to the billing with a league-best 22.7 points a game.

But the Vandals are getting outrebounded by an average of four per game, while GU is plus-5.5.

“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” said forward LeeAnne Wirth, who has helped the Zags to a program-best 10-1 start.

GU is doing it with balanced scoring and defense. Eight Zags are averaging at least five points, but only forward Zykera Rice (11.3 ppg) and guard Chandler Smith (10.3 ppg) are in double figures.

Confronted by a mix of man, zone and the occasional full-court press, GU’s opponents are shooting just 37 percent from the field, and have turned the ball over at least 15 times in all but one game.

Idaho is coming off a 12-day break. The Vandals fell at Wyoming 64-61 on Dec. 8.

The teams have only one common opponent. Idaho lost 115-71 at Stanford on Nov. 11. Three weeks later, GU knocked off the eighth-ranked Cardinal 79-73 in Spokane.

However, Idaho owns wins over Texas Tech and San Francisco.

The Zags open West Coast Conference play on Dec. 29 at Loyola Marymount.

Idaho begins its Big Sky schedule the same night at Idaho State.