Taking care of business means taking care of the ball, something the Gonzaga women didn’t do in Wednesday’s 51-49 nonconference loss to Washington State.
The Zags committed 20 turnovers and allowed the Cougars to steal the ball 13 times, the most by an opponent in almost two years.
“Some of the passes we made, I don’t know,” coach Lisa Fortier said. “One of them came straight to me.”
Senior guard Abby O’Connor agreed.
“The momentum they got off turnovers really hurt us,” O’Connor said.
The importance of ball security will be underscored on Sunday night, when the Zags (7-2) host Stephen F. Austin.
An NCAA Tournament team last year, the Ladyjacks are 8-1; more to the point, they rank second in the nation in steals with almost 15 per game.
That number is slightly misleading. Of their 131 steals, 25 came in a lopsided win against Division II Arlington Baptist. The Ladyjacks got 18 more in their last outing, a 90-31 romp over Our Lady of the Lake University.
In their only loss, at Texas A&M, they snagged only eight balls; and another nine in a narrow win over New Mexico.
Moreover, GU isn’t turning the ball over more frequently than it did last year, about 15.5 per game; it’s just that turnovers played a big factor in the loss to WSU.
Lose the handle again on Sunday and the Zags will have lost their margin of error for earning an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Stephen F. Austin appears capable of pulling the upset. The Ladyjacks are balanced, too, with no one seeing more than 26 minutes per game on the court but eight players who average at least 15.
SFA is led by Stephanie Visscher, a 6-foot guard from Sweden who averages 13.6 points and almost four assists. She’s also one of the better 3-point shooters in the nation, hitting 45.7%.
Visscher also averages three steals to rank 22nd the nation.
The Zags also must contend with the inside game of 6-3 post Aiana Johnson, who averages 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Avery Brittingham, a 6-0 sophomore guard, averages 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds; and 5-7 guard Zya Nugent scores 10 points a game.
The Ladyjacks’ lone loss (82-75) came on Nov. 18 at then-No. 24 Texas A&M, but they trailed by 18 points in the fourth quarter.
The Ladyjacks were a nationally prominent program in the late 1990s and into the new millennium, reaching the second round on eight occasions and making a Sweet 16 appearance in 1996.
SFA has made just two NCAA appearances in the past 20 years: in 2006, and again last year when it lost in overtime to No. 5 seed Georgia Tech.
In 2006, a 15-year absence ended with a trip to nearby San Antonio, where the Ladyjacks lost in overtime to No. 5 seed Georgia Tech.
The game tips off at the unusual time of 6:30 p.m. because it was scheduled as part of a split doubleheader with a men’s game against Washington. That game was scrapped by COVID-19 issues on the Husky team, but the women’s game will go on as scheduled.
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