The Gonzaga women are definitely finding their range this season, and the reasons are no surprise: hours of practice, a stronger inside game and better shot selection.
Together they’ve made quite a difference from this point a year ago, when only 11 Division I teams out of 349 had a worse 3-point shooting percentage than GU’s 24.3 percent.
It got better – GU finished the year at 29.4 percent – but you got the feeling that the Zags won West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles despite mediocre shooting from outside.
“We didn’t shoot it very well last year,” coach Lisa Fortier said. “But a lot of it is just confidence.”
Confidence is high this year. So far, the Zags are hitting 36 percent of their outside shots, good enough for 34th in the nation and a major reason they’re 16-1 and ranked 13th in the polls.
Those numbers are coming despite the early departure of Jill Barta and the graduation of Emma Stach, who were not only the team’s most prolific 3-point shooters but also its most accurate (79 for 212, or 35.9 percent).
The rest of the Zags were a combined 24.3 percent.
“It was no secret that we weren’t very good last year,” said guard Jill Townsend, who was 5 for 33 from long range last year. … “But we’ve put a lot of effort in the gym.”
Few worked harder than Townsend, who won State 2B titles at Okanogan with her inside game.
“I didn’t take a lot of 3-pointers in high school,” said Townsend, who also had to adjust to the speed of the college game.
This year, she’s 11 for 23, or 47.8 percent. That not the best on the team but would rank ninth in the nation had Townsend taken the required 50 shots.
At the top of the GU charts is junior transfer Katie Campbell, who was recruited out of junior college in Los Angeles partly because of her shooting – and went 12 for 52, or 23 percent.
This week, she ranks eighth in the country at 47.9 percent (34 for 71).
“It’s the little things, like my footwork.” Campbell said. “Plus, last year I was adjusting to the atmosphere, the crowd and a new state.”
Campbell didn’t elaborate on the difference between shooting baskets in California and Washington, but her point was well taken.
“I just had to get more confidence,” Campbell said.
Point guard Jessie Loera is shooting 33 percent (15 for 45) from 3, while guards Chandler Smith (20 percent) and Laura Stockton (23.8 percent) are struggling.
However, both caught fire late in the year and are shooting with confidence.
Confidence is coming not only from the shooters but from the players in the paint. With senior Zykera Rice and twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth dominating inside, opponents are responding by giving the Zags a bit more room on the perimeter.
“This team is special,” Townsend said. “Definitely the inside game is helping – everybody has to focus on our inside game because our post players are having such a great year.”
“I think it’s partially that – Zykera is drawing help, and Jenn and LeeAnne are drawing help, so the balance is helping,” Fortier said.
But perhaps the biggest change is shot selection. A year ago, the Zags put up an average of 16.5 long-range shots per game. This season that number is 13.1.
“The judgments on when to shoot it are very good,” Fortier said.
For example, Fortier said, Campbell “only gets in trouble when she doesn’t shoot it. She hasn’t put up very many bad ones, but she’s been chewed up a little bit when she’s passed them up.”
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