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Gonzaga heads into holiday tournament on a high note with 84-44 victory over Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 22, 2019

After a turnover, Gonzaga forward Melody Kempton  heads downcourt during the first half Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
After a turnover, Gonzaga forward Melody Kempton heads downcourt during the first half Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

All things considered, Gonzaga just had one of the best .500 weeks in recent memory.

It began with a loss at Stanford, but taking the No. 3 Cardinal to overtime won the Zags some national respect in the days that followed.

On Friday night at The Kennel, GU got something more tangible: an 84-44 nonconference win over Eastern Washington.

And with temperatures near freezing in Spokane, it gets better for the 23rd-ranked Zags: Next week they’re off to the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.

The Zags open the three-game tournament against Dayton the day after Thanksgiving.

“It’ll be nice to get out in the sun,” senior guard Katie Campbell said after scoring a team-high 13 points. “Maybe we’ll get some Vitamin D, and that will make our spirits high and make us want to go out there and win some games.”

Friday night wasn’t the time to look ahead.

“We definitely came in with a different mindset after a loss,” Campbell said. “(Stanford) was a game where some of us thought we should have won … and we were kind of taking it out on Eastern a little.

“We wanted to get back in our rhythm, and this was a game where we had to do that.”

Playing in a nearly full Kennel, the Zags took an early 16-point lead over their regional rivals, got through a sluggish second quarter and coasted in the second half to improve to 3-1.

Still, it didn’t feel like a 40-point win to head coach Lisa Fortier.

“It never feels very easy against Eastern; they make you work for everything,” Fortier said. “I kept looking up at the scoreboard, and it wasn’t until the fourth quarter” that the game felt secure.

“It was a little like Stanford, where it didn’t feel smooth or cohesive or easy.”

It felt doubly that way for Eastern, which gave up 21 points on 20 turnovers and shot just 32% from the field.

“We got them into a tough shooting night,” Fortier said. “Our defense was aggressive.”

Gonzaga took control in the opening minutes. A steal from Jessie Loera led to a fastbreak layin by Campbell that made it 11-2.

Two Eastern timeouts later, the lead was 18-4 and Campbell was flexing her muscles after a resounding block in the paint against Leya DePriest.

“I think they’re going to start posting me up pretty soon,” Campbell said. “It was fun. I usually don’t flex, but it was Eastern, so I just had to.”

The crowd roared at that play, but Eastern (0-4) played the Zags almost evenly during a sluggish second quarter that ended with GU up 43-26.

The Zags also dominated on the stat line in the first half, outrebounding the shorter Eagles 20-15 and forcing 11 turnovers.

GU turned those mistakes into 15 points at the other end.

Gonzaga continued to capitalize on turnovers in the third quarter – five of them, capped by an 80-foot steal and layin by Loera that made it 56-29.

Leading 56-31 after three quarters, the Zags played with a variety of player combinations. No player saw more than 26 minutes of action.

Scoring was as balanced as it gets, even by Fortier’s standards. Ten players got on the board, but only Campbell, Kayleigh Truong (4 for 7 for 12 points) and Melody Kempton (11 points and six rebounds) got into double figures.

“We had more people contribute,” Fortier said. “We’re really good when we can go to everybody.”

Campbell and Truong each made 2 of 4 shots from beyond the arc, helping GU go 7 for 16 (44%).

Eastern sophomore forward Grace Kirscher of Sandpoint led all scorers with 15.

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