Forgive the BYU women if they look a bit rusty Tuesday night.
Because of COVID-19, the Cougars may have set an NCAA record for fewest games played in January – 4 – and have managed one contest in the last 19 days.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga is on quite the roll, with 14 straight wins and a No. 19 national ranking going into a crucial West Coast Conference game against the Cougars at the Kennel.
GU is 15-2 overall and alone atop the WCC with a 10-0 record – one game ahead of BYU – after a road sweep of Pacific and Saint Mary’s.
“We wanted to play a more complete game, and we did that,” Coach Lisa Fortier said after a 76-52 win over the Gaels.
Of course, that means little heading into Tuesday’s grudge match against BYU, which beat the Zags three straight times two years ago thanks in part to all-WCC guard Shaylee Gonzales.
Then Gonzales went down to a summer knee injury that cost her the entire 2019-20 season. Now she’s back and leading the Cougars in almost every category.
“You add a player of her caliber, it changes their entire team,” Fortier said. “She’s such an impactful player on offense and defense, and has a knack for drawing fouls.”
Last week against Pacific, she had a game-high 23 points along with 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a career-high 6 steals to lead the Cougars to an easy 81-60 win.
BYU also got a season-high 15 points from Tegan Graham and 9 rebounds from 6-foot-7 senior post Sara Hamson.
Trouble is, that was BYU’s only action since Jan. 14 and only its second in almost 4 weeks.
COVID-19 and its protocols have affected every team, but few as hard as BYU. After losing 58-56 at San Diego, the Cougars routed Loyola Marymount three days later.
Then it all fell apart. A Jan. 9 date with Pepperdine was scrapped by the latter’s COVID-19 issues. BYU got in a home win over Saint Mary’s on Jan. 14, but a game with Pacific was lost; so, too, was an entire weekend in the Northwest two weeks ago.
Tuesday’s game is a makeup for a contest originally scheduled for Jan. 23.
Bottom line: The Cougars are 9-2 overall but only 5-1 in the conference, and it’s unclear when and if the lost games can be made up.
However, they are trying. The Pacific game was made up last week, and BYU handled it just fine.
“Twelve days is a long time to go without playing a game,” Gonzales said after the game. “We came out here very, very prepared.
“Every practice we come out with energy and intensity. We know that if we don’t play we have to step up and keep pushing,” Gonzalez said.
Though led by Gonzalez, the Cougars are as complete a team as the Zags will face on their WCC schedule.
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