Last week, the Gonzaga women played their first road game of the season. Well, technically their second – they drove the 25 minutes to Cheney to take on Eastern Washington on Nov. 11. But on Saturday, the Zags hopped on a plane to face UNLV.
Now the Zags are on another road trip, but a slightly bigger one than the last: the Vancouver Showcase.
In addition to GU, this year’s showcase north of the border features Washington, Santa Clara, Texas A&M, Minnesota, Drake, Rutgers, South Carolina, East Tennessee State, Oregon State, Western Kentucky and No. 1 Notre Dame. The Zags face the defending NCAA champion Fighting Irish in their first game at noon on Thursday.
The team’s Tuesday film session was the first official time they spent discussing the daunting task at hand.
“We really are preparing for them like we would any other opponent,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “We play Stanford every year, and someone big in every tournament. We are used to playing really good opponents, and we haven’t played the No. 1 team in the country in a while, but it’s just another team. They have strengths, but they have weaknesses as well. Our job, as the coaching staff, is to figure out how to emphasize our strengths and make them play to their weaknesses.”
Fortier noted that her players have a lot of things to work on, but also have a handful of attributes that will help when facing Notre Dame.
The Zags are looking to build off their 11-point victory in Las Vegas. Fortier doesn’t necessarily describe her team’s play as pretty, but she was happy with her players’ physical play on the glass, ability to handle pressure – turning disjointed offensive possessions into positives – shooting percentage and lack of turnovers. Areas that Fortier has been pleased with this season include the team’s play in transition, versatility in scoring and full-court defense.
Another strength the Zags possess is their roster balance. Fortier can depend on veteran leadership from Laura Stockton, Zykera Rice and Chandler Smith, while younger players like Jill Townsend, Melody Kempton and LeeAnne Wirth offer a boost of energy.
Coming into its first game of the tournament, GU is a heavy underdog. Fortier doesn’t think she’ll need to mention that fact in the locker room to get her team in the right mindset: “I don’t think they’ll need a lot of rallying in a game like this.”
Rice agrees. There’s no need for extra hype.
“I think we always play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,” Rice said. “… I think that we are just really excited to play.”
Playing Notre Dame offers the Zags a glance at what is to come in the NCAA Tournament: big-time teams with big-time players. Fortier said the Vancouver Showcase will allow her team to compare its work with the other high-profile teams there and will get an accurate assessment of how the it needs to improve to make it far in March.
“We are just trying to get better,” Fortier said. “There are parts of this game that, regardless of the final score, are going to allow us to get better.
“Winning the game will help us to be better, too … I don’t think we care who we play. We want to play the best teams, and I think we belong in the conversation with some of the best teams.”
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