Hardly anything about this season for Gonzaga is simple anymore, but there’s something to be said for the appealing simplicity of — using senior guard Jill Townsend’s words — “taking care of business.”
GU (6-2, 1-0 WCC) hasn’t lost a conference opener since long before head coach Lisa Fortier’s tenure. The Zags have started off conference play at least 5-0 every year since 2016, going undefeated against every team not named BYU or Saint Mary’s in that span.
But business as usual is not always going to be aesthetically appealing, even against a Loyola Marymount team that finished last in the WCC in 2020. After three quarters playing from behind due to a disjointed shooting night, Fortier’s Zags finally gained control with a fourth-quarter push to win 65-62 in Los Angeles.
“Welcome to conference play,” Fortier said. “Every game seems like a grinder. They know you. You know them. You just have less room for error against teams who have so much familiarity with each other.”
Townsend finished with a game-high 19 points, and both Wirth twins finished in double figures - Jenn Wirth scoring 14 with 10 rebounds, and LeeAnne Wirth finishing with 10 and 4 - to overcome shooting 35.7% overall and 25% from 3.
“This was a good wake up call for what conference play is going to be like for our team,” Townsend said. “We’re the team everyone is circling, wanting to pull the upset, so it reminded us we have to bring our very best every game.”
Despite two quick buckets from Townsend to begin the game and a layup from Jenn Wirth to take a 6-0 lead within two minutes of tipoff, the Lions (1-5, 0-1) capitalized on early Gonzaga misses and 7 turnovers to go on a 13-2 run to end the first quarter with a 6-point lead of their own. The Lions led by as much as 13 in the second quarter before Kayleigh Truong finally connected from three to stop the bleeding with 6 minutes to go before halftime.
The third quarter brought more of the same tough shooting, however, and the Zags couldn’t seem to string together enough makes to pull ahead.
But once reigning WCC Player of the Year Townsend scored six straight to start the fourth, it was the Lions playing from behind for much of the rest of the game.
GU outrebounded LMU 42-32 even without the services of 6-foot-5 backup post Anamaria Virjoghe, who did not travel to Los Angeles with the team for health and safety protocols.
The Wirth twins combined for 8 of the team’s 17 offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points in the second half, hitting the deck multiple times in the fourth quarter for loose balls. But even then, the Lions continued to put up a fight in the fourth quarter, with the lead changing three times until the Zags gained the upper hand for good with just under three minutes left.
An offensive board from Townsend off a miss by Kayleigh Truong allowed Jenn Wirth to put the Zags up by 4 with 20 seconds left, and Townsend sank four free throws in the final minute to keep the game outside of a possession. Freshman Nicole Rodriguez’ attempt at a last-gasp tying three to keep the Lions alive was smothered as time expired.
“We were just trying to stay composed in the fourth quarter,” Townsend said. “We weren’t shooting a great percentage, but it all came down to trying to get stops and working the ball around on our end for the best possible shot.”
After a day of rest, GU will have a chance to move to 2-0 in WCC play on Wednesday against a 4-3 Pepperdine team with seven new players.
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