It’s back to Las Vegas for the Gonzaga women.
That’s where last season ended, although the Zags didn’t know it at the time. Now it offers a chance to gain some momentum going into the holidays and the beginning of the West Coast Conference season.
The occasion is the Holiday Hoops Classic, a two-day event Sunday and Monday at the South Point Arena, south of the Las Vegas Strip.
The opponents – Eastern Michigan on Sunday and North Alabama on Monday – don’t appear daunting, but neither did Montana, which took the Zags to the wire in a 58-51 GU win at the Kennel.
The Zags are 3-2 and ranked 25th in the Associated Press poll, but are still finding themselves during the COVID-abbreviated nonconference season – or as head coach Lisa Fortier calls it, “Season 1.”
“Season 2,” of course, is the West Coast Conference slate, which is less than two weeks away. The trip to Vegas offers a last chance at finalizing the rotation and making other adjustments.
“We know that we’re pretty inconsistent, and we saw that physical play can take us out of our rhythm,” Fortier said.
Eastern Michigan probably isn’t going to do that. The Eagles are quick on the dribble, but they shoot poorly from long range (25.8%) and don’t have a starter taller than 6 feet.
The Eagles are led by 5-10 senior guard Areanna Combs, a transfer from Oklahoma State who averages 20.6 points and 7 rebounds. Combs also has 20 steals.
Ce’nara Skanes, a 6-0 sophomore forward, averages 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.
EMU was picked to finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference, while Combs was selected to the preseason MAC second team.
The Eagles’ 3-2 record matches the best start under fifth-year head coach Fred Castro. EMU is coming off a 71-64 loss to Bowling Green, dropping them to 1-1 in conference play.
“They’re super athletic,” Fortier said. “They’re also physical, but in a different way. They’re a lot like South Carolina – they love to drive it at you.”
GU has played just five games, but it feels like more than that.
“Definitely, because the games have been so close,” senior forward Jenn Wirth said.
The Zags own a 39-point win at Wyoming, but the other four games were decided by a combined 19 points.
On Monday, the Zags will face North Alabama. The Lions were 21-7 last year but are off to a 0-6 start, all by double digits.
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