Melody Kempton is still bringing energy off the Gonzaga bench.
Now she gets to bring it more often.
“I’m ready to do whatever the coaches need me to do,” said Kempton, who has made a successful transition from Gatorade Player of the Year in Idaho to role player for the Zags.
She made another transition this month.
After season-ending injuries to Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend, the Zags will take a longer look at their bench as they open NCAA Tournament play Saturday against Arkansas Little Rock.
“I was talking with somebody, I don’t know when, that our depth is going to pay off,” coach Lisa Fortier said on Selection Monday.
“Maybe that time is now.”
If last week was any indication, that could mean more minutes for Kempton and seldom-used guard Louise Forsyth. Each played 12 minutes in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game loss to BYU on March 12.
They’re ready, coach Lisa Fortier said this week as the Zags adjusted to a new reality.
“We’re not trying to reinvent ourselves,” Fortier said. “We can do the things that Laura and Jill did for our team with the players we have on this roster, and you saw that in the first and third quarters against BYU.
“We have confident players who have made contributions all year. It’s not like we’re taking people who have never played the game and asking them to be our leading scorer.”
Far from it in the case of Kempton, who was the all-time leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker in Post Falls High School history before arriving at GU last fall.
Quality minutes came immediately, 26 of them in an exhibition win over Carroll College in front of 5,000-plus fans at the Kennel.
“I’ve never played in front of that many people,” said Kempton, who had 10 points, nine boards and three steals in an 86-43 win.
Two weeks later, she totaled 14 points in 20 minutes against defending national champion Notre Dame in the Vancouver Showcase.
A 6-foot-1 forward, Kempton had 10 boards against Washington State, 10 points and six rebounds against Portland and eight boards in a home win over San Diego.
For the year, she’s averaging almost 14 minutes, 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds. Kempton has played double-digit minutes in all but seven games for the Zags (28-4).
“The season’s been great, and it’s been super fun to jump from small-town Post Falls to come here,” Kempton said.
This week she’ll be expected to offer more quality minutes in relief of Zykera Rice and the Wirth twins, LeeAnne and Jenn.
Kempton isn’t Jill Townsend, who came off the bench at forward as well as wing. Don’t expect her to launch 3-pointers the way Townsend did – Kempton hasn’t taken one all year.
“I just see myself bringing energy, jump on a dead ball, a 50-50 ball, helping in any way you can,” Kempton said.
“It’s exciting being a freshman, and now being in the NCAAs is really fun.”
Forsyth also expects to share in the fun. A 6-foot guard from Langley, British Columbia, she’s played just 154 minutes all year, yet has made 13 3-point shots out of 30 attempts.
“It was exciting to be out there,” Forsyth said of the BYU game. “Unfortunately, it comes with other players being hurt.
“I just want to come out and bring energy and enthusiasm and being ready to play.”
Fortier said she hopes to stay with a nine-player rotation for the NCAAs. That might mean some minutes for sophomore Gillian Barfield, who’s had just 26 all year.
A 6-1 forward from Phoenix, Barfield averaged 0.1 points and 0.2 rebounds.
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