Long before the basketball season finally began, Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier and her players have tried to focus on what they could control and try to ignore the rest.
Easier said than done, especially Sunday afternoon at the Kennel, where Montana had chipped a 14-point GU lead to two late in the fourth quarter.
That would have been the cue for a sellout crowd to get on its feet and push the Zags to the finish line.
However, you can get only so much energy out of cardboard cutouts, even 300 of them; so much for home-court advantage.
So the Zags made their own, regaining their composure and shooting touch to hold off the Lady Griz, 58-51.
With just under three minutes left and Gonzaga clinging to a 48-46 lead, it fell to sophomore guard Kayleigh Truong to seize the moment.
The Griz had just missed a 3-point shot that would have given them the lead. After a turnover by each team, Jenn Wirth whipped the ball to the top of the arc and Truong let fly.
“I just wanted to make a difference,” said Truong, who did just that, draining a 3-pointer to give GU a 51-46 lead. Montana would never get that close again as the 25th-ranked Zags made 7 of 8 free throws, avoiding a major upset.
“We’re going to keep getting better,” Fortier said. “We don’t want to be our best right now.”
However, the Zags certainly have been tested, their 3-2 record fashioned out of four games decided by a combined 21 points and a blowout win last week at Wyoming.
Montana, picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky Conference, didn’t figure to pose a major challenge. However, the Lady Griz (1-2) managed to disrupt GU’s offensive flow for most of the afternoon.
The Lady Griz also didn’t back down in the paint against the taller Zags; instead, they set the tone with three early blocked shots.
For the game, Gonzaga shot 31% from the field and just 28% from long range, and barely won the rebounding battle 40-26.
“We definitely need to be stronger,” said senior forward Lee Anne Wirth, who finished with a team-high 12 points and eight rebounds. “It was apparent they weren’t going to let up on us – they were being really tough.”
However, the Zags made up for it on the defensive end, holding Montana to 39% shooting and just 17% from long range.
GU took a 15-9 lead on Cierra Walker’s no-look pass for a layup to LeeAnne Wirth and a fastbreak layin from Truong.
Up 30-23 at intermission, GU dominated the third quarter, pushing the advantage to 46-34 going into the fourth. However, the Lady Griz opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run, prompting a timeout from Fortier.
“We have a lot to work on still,” Fortier said. “Obviously, we did not shoot the ball well today. We were out of rhythm. Which Montana got us out of rhythm. They played really hard, and they played really strong and tough.”
Montana got even closer. Carmen Gfeller, a sophomore from Colfax, hit a turnaround jumper to make it 48-46, and after a GU turnover, Montana had a chance to take the lead.
However Gfeller misfired, leading to Truong’s big 3-pointer.
The Griz got a game-high 15 points from Sophia Stiles, plus 12 points and seven rebounds from Gfeller.
Up next for the Zags is finals week, followed by a two-game getaway to Las Vegas for the Holiday Hoops Classic. GU plays Eastern Michigan on Sunday and North Alabama a day later.
The Zags open West Coast Conference play Dec. 28 at Loyola Marymount.
Their next home game is Jan. 2 against Saint Mary’s.
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