For the Gonzaga women, Sunday promises a home opener like none before.
The Zags and Montana will play in a near-empty McCarthey Athletic Center, with room for only essential personnel.
Sadly, that means no family or friends, another tough blow for a team that has seen so many.
Last year, the Zags were 28-3 and expecting to open the NCAA Tournament in the Kennel. But COVID-19 intervened, ending that season and pushing back the start of this one.
In a typical year, the Zags would have played 10 games by now, at least half of them at McCarthey.
“I really wish we could have had more than one game at home,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said.
The 25th-ranked Zags will be a solid favorite over the Grizzlies (1-1), who opened the season with a seven-point loss at Utah State before routing North Dakota 86-72 in Missoula.
Gonzaga is only 2-2, but that record was earned with nail-biting losses against then-No. 1 South Carolina and South Dakota State, and wins over South Dakota and Wyoming.
The 89-50 win at Wyoming on Tuesday was gratifying; not only did GU assert its strength inside (owning the boards 44-17) but also its versatility.
Late in the game in Laramie, Fortier recalled looking up at the scoreboard and realizing that star guard Jill Townsend – who’d come into the game averaging 22 points – had only four.
In the previous game at South Dakota State, Townsend had a career-high 29 points partly because “we were directing the shots to her,” Fortier said.
“That wasn’t the case against Wyoming,” Fortier said.
“We were very efficient offensively, and worked really well together for a good mix of interior and perimeter baskets.”
Townsend and Jenn Wirth (11.3 ppg) are the only Zags averaging double figures, but four others are above 6 ppg.
GU also found its shooting touch from long range, going 12 for 20 to boost the team average to 40.5%.
Montana comes in with a new coach in Mike Petrino, whose motion offense has paid off for redshirt sophomore forward Carmen Gfeller. The Colfax product is averaging 23.5 points and six rebounds.
The other key player for Montana is junior guard Sophia Stiles (13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).
“They’re a very good team, and they’re always going to be physical,” Fortier said. “But I don’t think they have as much depth as we do.”
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