The ball was ripe for the taking, and the Gonzaga women seized it with both hands.
In fact, eight players had a hand in Saturday’s turnover-fest, making it all the easier to take a 71-44 West Coast Conference win over Santa Clara at the Kennel.
In the paint and on the perimeter and in transition, the Broncos lost the handle and GU was there to pick it up in one of the Bulldogs’ most dominant wins of the season.
“We’re just trying to pressure the ball more and take teams out of their rhythm,” coach Lisa Fortier said.
Mission accomplished. It was a game of superlatives on the defensive end. GU took advantage of 23 turnovers – 16 in the first half – to tie a season high, while the Broncos’ 44 points were the fewest by a Zags opponent this year.
“Our press is really working well,” guard Emma Stach said. “We just want to keep doing that.”
They already are: GU (15-4 overall, 8-0 in the WCC) forced 20-plus turnovers for the fourth straight game – all wins.
“We’re trying to be more disruptive, and it’s been working the last four games, at least,” Fortier said.
Dominance came early – inside and outside, on both ends of the court. Layins by Jill Barta sandwiched a three-point play from Zykera Rice, who followed her miss with an offensive rebound, layin and a foul.
In the next three minutes, GU forced an over-and-back and a shot-clock violation, taking a 12-4 lead on Emma Stach’s 3-pointer. The lead grew from there, reaching double digits before the first quarter was over.
Seconds later, Chandler Smith made perhaps the most remarkable play of the game. As Santa Clara star Taylor Berry streaked into the paint, Smith managed to reach in and grab the ball without fouling.
The play resulted in a jump ball, with the possession arrow pointing Gonzaga’s way.
By then, the turnover machine was in high gear. Whether in transition or its half-court offense, Santa Clara (5-14, 1-7) couldn’t hold onto the ball.
Thanks in part to 16 Broncos turnovers, GU led 19-8 after one quarter and 40-16 at halftime.
The Bulldogs were just as impressive on the offensive end. After what Fortier called a “grind” win at Saint Mary’s on Thursday, she went to her bench earlier than usual.
The move paid off. No Zag played more than 26 minutes, but their offensive rhythm was crisp against the Broncos’ zone.
Inside, Barta and Rice each went 7 for 10 from the field and finished with 18 and 16 points, respectively, on a steady diet of layups and short jumpers.
Together, they were too much for the shorter Broncos to handle.
“Those are the shots you practice all the time,” Rice said after her 17th straight double-digit scoring game. “It feels good to reap the benefits of putting all those shots up.”
Stach provided the outside firepower, hitting two of three from 3-point range and finished with 12 points. Overall, GU was only 3 for 13 from beyond the arc, continuing a season-long trend.
But give it time, Stach said.
“When we’re getting open shots we know we can shoot them,” she said. “It wasn’t showing up in some of the games, but we know we can shoot it from outside, too.”
With a 24-point lead, the Bulldogs slacked off a bit in the third quarter, but took their biggest lead of the game, 71-40, on a pair of foul shots by freshman Jill Townsend with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to play.
Morgan McGwire led the Broncos with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Zags take two-game lead
Moments after their 71-44 win over Santa Clara, the Gonzaga women got more good news.
Second-place BYU had just lost a one-point game at San Diego, handing the Bulldogs a two-game lead in the West Coast Conference.
The Zags were underwhelmed. Fortier gave a quick smile. Senior guard Stach shrugged.
“There’s still a lot of games to play,” Stach said.
Ten to be exact, half of them against their closest pursuers in a rather back-loaded conference schedule. GU is 8-0 in the conference, but still has two game each against BYU (6-2), San Diego (5-3) and one more against Saint Mary’s (6-2).
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