The Gonzaga women are shooting for one of the best seasons in program history partly because their aim has been so darn good this year.
Going into Thursday night’s home game against San Diego, the Zags rank fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage with a 40.5% average.
It wasn’t always that way. At one point two years ago, GU was one of the worst long-range shooting teams in the nation.
“I remember that,” said guard Jill Townsend, who as a freshman shot just 15.2% from beyond the arc. Newcomer Katie Campbell was only slightly better at 23.1%.
The Zags still managed to win West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles, but as Townsend recalls, “That was something that was missing in our season that could have made it that much better.”
“So we worked hard that year to become better shooters,” Townsend said.
The work paid off Saturday: Townsend had a career-high 28 points on 6-for-8 shooting from long range as the Zags beat Loyola Marymount 78-52 last weekend. That puts her at 48% for the year, which would rank her second in the nation if she had more attempts.
Then again, the Zags like to spread the wealth – another reason they’re 20-1 and ranked 12th in the nation. Katie Campbell is hitting 43% and Jessie Loera 41%, while everyone else is shooting 33% or better.
“I think it’s the overall balance,” assistant coach Craig Fortier said. “We don’t have anybody stepping on the court who has a defined weakness.”
However, 3-point shooting was a major concern going into the 2018-19 season.
After the previous season ended with a first-round NCAA loss at Stanford, the Zags lost their best and most productive 3-point shooters in Jill Barta and Emma Stach.
The returnees had hit just 23.4% that year, so something had to change. Besides putting in more work, the Zags got smarter.
“What came out of that season was a lot more discernment in shot selection,” Fortier said. “This group, they were the babies on that team, and they learned from that.”
Last year, as Zykera Rice and the Wirth sisters dominated the paint, the perimeter game thrived. By season’s end the Zags were hitting almost 38% from three to ranked eighth in Division 1.
The trend has continued this year with Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth and their backups.
“A lot of team are focusing on our inside game,” Jenn Wirth said. “They’re collapsing on the inside and it’s opening up kick-outs. Then it’s our job to make reads and for the guards to get open.”
The rest is easy, or so it seemed against Loyola Marymount.
“I can’t even remember half the 3s I took, but I just know they went in,” Townsend said. “It’s just one of those (games), and it was a lot of fun.”
The fun continues Thursday night against San Diego. The Bulldogs are 9-0 in WCC play, with a nation-best 18-game winning streak going into the second half of conference play. They also are almost back at full strength, with LeeAnne Wirth and Kayleigh Truong expected back after sitting out last week with ankle injuries.
In the last meeting, Gonzaga committed a season-high 23 turnovers, but won 57-42 victory on the strength of a colossal 40- 17 advantage on the boards.
Since then, the Toreros have won four of five games, improving to 12-8 overall and 6-3 in the WCC.
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