From start to finish, it was an uncomfortable evening for the Gonzaga women.
Friday night’s nonconference game against Wyoming opened with boos from dozens of fans as several players continued to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
“I understand that people are upset that some people are kneeling,” coach Lisa Fortier said after the game. “But we live in a free country where there is freedom of speech, so I can’t be upset.
“And I know they support us in our games.”
Indeed, the players also heard the cheers from the crowd of 3,100, especially in the fourth quarter, as the heavily favored Zags (7-1) finally pulled away from the Cowgirls for a 54-47 win.
Playing without starting point guard Kayleigh Truong, who suffered a knee injury last weekend in Hawaii, the Zags looked disjointed on offense for much of the game.
GU shot 42% from the field and 33% on 3-pointers and was outrebounded 31-29.
The big plays came at the other end of the court. Trailing by four points with 1 minute, 10 seconds left, Wyoming had a chance to make it a one-possession game.
The Cowgirls (3-4), however, couldn’t get a decent look. As the shot clock wound down, the Zags forced a held ball with 45 seconds to play.
“Coach is always talking about communication, switching out on the shooters, and that’s what we try to do,” said Kaylynne Truong, who started in her twin sister’s place for the second consecutive game.
Four seconds later, Truong made a pair of free throws to push the lead to six and Wyoming never threatened again.
After holding an opponent below 55 points for the third time this season, the postgame talk centered on defense.
“That’s what we try to do, make players go to their weakness,” Fortier said.
She also noted that the Zags had six blocks, four by Melody Kempton.
“It seemed like we had more,” Fortier said.
Forward Yvonne Ejim had a simple explanation: “We weren’t as offensively impactful as we could be.”
Gonzaga led 25-20 at halftime despite shooting almost 50% from the field (10 for 22). The Cowgirls stayed close by making 4 of 10 from long range and outrebounded the Zags 14-13.
Wyoming led for a few seconds (17-16) on the second of two 3-pointers from Ola Ustowska, who had a game-high 17 points.
That was probably the Zags’ biggest defensive lapse, Fortier said.
Gonzaga opened the second half on an 8-2 run, taking a 13-point lead and forcing a Wyoming timeout.
GU led 37-31 going into the fourth quarter but couldn’t put the Cowgirls away until the final minute.
Kempton led the GU offense, making 6 of 9 shots for 13 points. The senior from Post Falls also had six boards and three assists.
Truong added 11 points and five assists, though she had six turnovers. Ejim added 10 points and fives rebounds, plus a pair of steals.
Gonzaga is home on Wednesday against Washington State. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.
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