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No. 18 Gonzaga women use balance on offense, stifling defense to down Washington State

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 8, 2019

Gonzaga’s Jenn Wirth (3) and Meldoy Kempton (33) knock the ball away from Washington State’s Jovana Subasic on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Pullman. (Dean Hare / WSU Athletics)
Gonzaga’s Jenn Wirth (3) and Meldoy Kempton (33) knock the ball away from Washington State’s Jovana Subasic on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Pullman. (Dean Hare / WSU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Knowing what Gonzaga was doing and being able to prevent it were two different things for Washington State, reflected in the margin of the Bulldogs’ 76-53 victory over the Cougars on Sunday at Beasley Coliseum.

“We knew it going in. Our scouts said they suck you into needing to help on the post. Then they kick it out to 3-point shooters,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said.

That they did. The 18th-ranked Bulldogs (9-1) hit 8 of 16 from beyond the arc, while the Cougars (5-5) struggled from deep, shooting just 17.6% (3 of 17).

LeeAnne Wirth notched her second-career double-double by matching her career high with 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for Gonzaga. Jill Townsend backed her up with 14 points for the Bulldogs, hitting 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Jenn Wirth added 13 points and Jessie Loera scored 10.

“We came out ready to go,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “For three quarters we played really great defense, and we ran really great offense. When you’re passing the ball, you have the inside threat and an outside threat, and you’re really tough to stop.”

WSU was paced by Borislava Hristova’s 15 points. Chanelle Molina scored 12 and Jovana Subasic 11.

Molina and Bella Murekatete each grabbed eight boards for the Cougars.

Besides moving the ball efficiently from the post to the perimeter, Gonzaga’s crisp passing around the court made WSU’s defense continually have to recover and slowed the Cougars’ attempts to get out to defend against 3-pointers.

The Bulldogs also frustrated WSU’s own effort to generate offense. They pinched off driving lanes against the Cougars, trapped ball handlers and harassed 3-point shooters.

Ethridge acknowledged this is an unfortunate reality her team has to change.

“We’ve got to get to where we can score 80 points. Now we’re putting 50 on the board. We can’t manufacture points against big, strong, solid teams,” she said.

Gonzaga picked the Cougars for eight steals – LeeAnne Wirth and Katie Campbell accounted for two each – and WSU committed 15 turnovers to Gonzaga’s 11.

Each team finished with 39 rebounds, a statistic Ethridge called misleading.

“They didn’t have any offensive rebounds to go after,” she said of the Bulldogs. “They made so many (shots) at a high clip.”

The game narrative developed early. Gonzaga took a 7-2 lead after harassing the Cougars into a pair of early turnovers. While WSU was determined to get the ball inside – without great success – the Bulldogs hit 3 of 8 from deep and 8 of 17 field goals overall in building a 22-13 first-quarter lead.

They ran their advantage to as many as 29 points at the close of the third quarter. In one of the few positives for the Cougars, a seven-point run in the final period allowed WSU to reduce the deficit. Hristova accounted for those points with three baskets and a free throw.

“Just finish the game strong,” Hristova said of her effort.

“I just think we played a better team than us,” Ethridge said. “They are built great. They have an unbelievable post presence, and they surround them with great shooters.

“We are just kind of the opposite of (Gonzaga). It is hard for us to manufacture enough points against as solid a team as Gonzaga is.”

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