After another crazy week off the court, head coach Lisa Fortier and the Gonzaga women appear to have a handle on their future.
Whether they can handle top-ranked South Carolina in their season opener at noon Sunday is another matter, but that’s not the point.
“I think a lot has been happening on and off the court … the players are just happy to be ready to play,” Fortier said Friday, after the Zags landed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic.
“This year, we’re talking more about what we can control than ever before,” Fortier said.
Lately, that hasn’t been much. Four days earlier, tournament organizers closed the event to fans and family because of COVID-19 worries.
On Thursday morning, GU’s first opponent, Oklahoma, pulled out for the same reason.
“We’d rather play three games than two, but we’re here,” Fortier said.
So are the Gamecocks, who have two games under their belt. They opened the season by setting several school records in a 119-38 romp over Charleston on Wednesday.
South Carolina opened the Bad Boy Mowers tournament with an 81-71 win over South Dakota on Saturday that was probably closer than expected, considering the Coyotes are unranked.
On the other hand, the game wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate.
With the game tied 37-all at halftime, the Gamecocks outscored South Dakota 31-11 in the third quarter and coasted home.
With preseason All-American Aliyah Boston, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, held to 12 points, SC guards Destanni Henderson and Eniya Russell scored 19 points each.
The Gamecocks shot 42% from the field and outrebounded South Dakota 45-37, but they shot only 16 for 29 from the free-throw line.
South Carolina won the national title in 2017 under coach Dawn Staley, who returns three starters and nine letter winners from last season’s squad that finished 32-1 with a No. 1 overall ranking.
The Gamecocks were predicted as the No. 1 overall seed heading into the NCAA Tournament prior to the cancellation due to the pandemic.
All three of USC’s returning starters are on the watch lists for their national positional awards: Cooke, Boston and Brea Beal.
“We’re not overemphasizing the fact that they’re the No. 1 team in the country, but we’re going to have to play well,” Fortier said. “Their transition game is really good, and they play a little more physical than we’re used to.”
Specifically, Fortier said the No. 21 Zags are most concerned about defending South Carolina’s transition game, dribble penetration and rebounding.
Without a game under their belts, the Zags are a lesser-known commodity, but GU returns 79.1% of its scoring and 79.2% of its rebounding from last season.
Gonzaga returns as one of the top defensive teams in the nation from a season ago. In 2019-20, the Bulldogs ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, limiting opponents to 51.9 points per game.
Gonzaga will play South Dakota on Monday, also at noon.
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