Moments after last week’s FanFest event, Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier set the tone for the rest of the women’s basketball season.
She talked about offense and defense and her players’ “streakiness” on both ends of the court:
“I thought they did some good things, and it was fun to watch these guys compete with a different feeling, because we haven’t had any live scrimmages like this.”
What she didn’t want to talk about was COVID-19, even as two of her players were sidelined because of it.
In other words, Fortier’s message was that the season would be defined by what the Zags can control: offense and defense, talent and grit.
The GU women will bring a lot to the court this year, perhaps a won-loss record – at least winning percentage – better than last year’s program-best 28-3.
Heavy favorites to win a fifth consecutive West Coast Conference title, the Zags also figure to compete for another high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Fortier said.
So who will shoot the ball from long range now that Katie Campbell has graduated?
The answer: a lot of folks.
There’s sophomore Kaylynne Truong, who shot almost 44% from long range as a freshman, as well as her twin sister Kayleigh, who hit at a 37% clip.
The best option – from 3, from inside the arc and almost every phase of the game – will be senior wing Jill Townsend.
The reigning WCC Player of the Year, Townsend earned that award by shooting almost 50% from the field, and pulling down 5.6 rebounds a game, but also shooting 41% from long range. Expect her to launch even more.
Townsend will get help from Cierra Walker, a senior transfer from Vanderbilt who shot 39% on 3-pointers while playing in the rugged Southeastern Conference. Senior Louise Forsyth may get some minutes, but Fortier and her staff will give some to four-star freshman McKayla Williams.
Kayleigh Truong is expected to start at the point, backed up her sister and true freshman Lily Scanlon, who impressed at FanFest.
Best friends since birth, twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth will try to end their college careers together in the paint.
The 6-foot-3 forwards have made an impact since they arrived at GU in the fall of 2017, with ever-increasing roles in the Zags’ past three conference titles.
Both are coming off strong junior seasons. Jenn started all 31 games and averaged 10.8 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds. LeeAnne (8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) wasn’t far behind, though the difference was enough to put only Jenn on the WCC preseason team.
That’s OK with LeeAnne.
“I just want to fill in wherever the team needs me,” she said. “The big focus for me is always defense – we need a big who can play defense.”
LeeAnne had 23 blocks last year, second behind Jenn, and also had 40 steals, just behind departed point guard Jessie Loera.
The Zags expect to get a big boost off the bench from former Post Falls star Melody Kempton, who shot a team-best 52% from the field while also grabbing 69 offensive boards in just over 20 minutes a game.
That production will be crucial, because it’s unclear who will provide the rest of the minutes.
Anamaria Virjoghe, a 6-5 post, showed some progress last year but will probably see limited action. Australian Eliza Hollings- worth hopes to make an impact after redshirting her freshman year due to injury.
Also in the mix is true freshman Yvonne Ejim of Calgary, Alberta.
Six years after being promoted from assistant, Fortier not only has been a consistent winner, she’s managed to keep her young staff intact.
Last year’s season was one of the best in school history: a 28-3 record and a fourth straight WCC regular-season title.
The title was Gonzaga’s fifth under Fortier, who has a 90-18 record in the WCC and is 155-43 overall.
Projected WCC order of finish
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
2. Brigham Young Cougars
3. Portland Pilots
4. Saint Mary’s Gaels
5. Pacific Tigers
6. San Diego Toreros
7. Loyola Marymount Lions
8. Pepperdine Waves
9. Santa Clara Broncos
10. San Francisco Dons
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