Even with two key players out with injuries, Gonzaga was never out of its depth Thursday night.
As starting forward LeeAnne Wirth and backup point guard Kayleigh Truong nursed minor ankle injuries, the rest of the Zags picked up the slack – and then some – in a 70-36 West Coast Conference romp over Pepperdine at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Mostly, they did so with defense, holding the Waves to 21% shooting and the fewest points scored by a GU opponent this year.
The Zags also pulled down 25 more rebounds than Pepperdine as three players finished with double-doubles.
“That’s what we did, beat them up on defense and destroy them on offense,” said Melody Kempton, who made her first collegiate start as the 13th-ranked Zags improved to 19-1, the best 20-game start in program history.
Wirth and Truong are day-to-day with injuries suffered earlier this week in practice, coach Lisa Fortier said. Either could return as soon as next week.
“We still don’t know when, but hopefully soon,” Fortier said.
While injuries are seldom timely, it’s only January. The last time Gonzaga was in this situation came last March, when Jill Townsend and former GU star Laura Stockton were sidelined for the WCC title game.
That one cost the Zags dearly, perhaps the chance to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games.
No so this time. Even with star forward Jenn Wirth being held scoreless in the first half, GU had no problems against the Waves (9-9, 3-5).
“We wanted to some out strong right away,” said Townsend, who did just that.
In the opening minutes, Townsend hit two free throws, grabbed two boards and drained a 3-pointer to give GU and early 9-0 lead.
Pepperdine pulled to within 10-7, but the Zags reeled off 10 straight points to take a 20-7 lead after the first quarter.
Holding the Waves to 22% shooting in the first half, the Zags shot 40% to lead 37-18 at intermission.
Things got out of hand in the third quarter, as GU continued to clamp down on the Pepperdine shooters. Heavily reliant on the 3-point shot, the Waves finished 4 for 20 from beyond the arc and fell behind 56-26.
The one-sided affair meant some shining moments and more minutes for several players. The biggest was Kempton, the former Post Falls star and Idaho Player of the Year.
“I wanted to play my best,” said Kempton, who had 12 points and six boards while playing almost 30 minutes. “I feel like I have a lot of energy, but it’s totally different when you start.”
The absence of LeeAnne Wirth also meant big minutes – a career-high 18 – for backup post AnaMaria Virjoghe, who totaled nine boards and three points.
It was the same story in the backcourt, where Louise Forsyth and Kaylynne Truong each played 20-minutes plus.
“I think it’s great that we can win games and not go down to the wire with those guys out,” Fortier said. “It allows us to build some confidence as coaches, as teammates, and as individuals.
“I would rather be healthy, but there are always positive ways to look at things like this.”
Townsend led the way with 10 rebounds and a game-high 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
Jenn Wirth also had a double-double with 10 board and 10 points after being shut out in the first half.
The most improbable double-double came from Campbell, who had scrapped for 12 points and nine boards as the game was winding down.
As Campbell was coming off the court, the coaches saw the stats and sent her back out. Seconds before the final buzzer, Campbell snagged a long rebound to earn her first collegiate double-double.
“That was a lot of fun,” Campbell said.
The Zags are home again Saturday against Loyola Marymount. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. – an hour earlier than usual as GU also will host a men’s game that night.
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