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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Transfer forward Abby O’Connor making the most of bonus year at Gonzaga

Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Lisa Fortier speaks with Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Abby O'Connor (30) during the first half of a college basketball game on Saturday, January 9, 2021, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-RE)

The silver linings are few and far between in the era of COVID-19, but the Gonzaga women found a lode last month.

Because of the pandemic, the NCAA granted blanket waivers to transfer players, allowing them to compete immediately.

Senior Abby O’Connor got the good news on Dec. 6, eight months after announcing that she was transferring to GU from Loyola of Chicago.

“Our little bonus baby,” Zags coach Lisa Fortier calls her, for good reason.

Instead of sitting out this season, that means O’Connor can contribute immediately. She’s doing that already, seeing double-digit minutes off the bench and providing valuable depth on the wing in relief of senior Jill Townsend.

O’Connor averages only 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds, but she’s already making an impact for the 20th-ranked Zags, who are 10-2 overall and 5-0 in the West Coast Conference heading into Thursday’s game at Santa Clara.

“She doesn’t get rattled very easily,” Fortier said of O’Connor. “She’s very versatile, and she’s tough on the glass.

“She’s earned herself a position in our core group of players.”

The extra year also will pay off next season, cushioning the expected blow from the graduation of current starters Townsend, guard Cierra Walker and forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth.

That will give Fortier and her staff a chance to develop some of the younger forwards such as freshman Yvonne Ejim and Eliza Hollingsworth. While it’s too early to predict next’s year’s starting lineup, it’s not too early to hazard a guess on four of the spots: twins Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong at guard, Melody Kempton at forward and O’Connor on the wing.

That’s where the 6-foot O’Connor spent most of her season-high 18 minutes on the court during GU’s 75-43 romp over WCC rival Portland on Saturday.

“Today was a lot of fun,” O’Connor said after getting four points, three rebounds and an assist.

Those are small numbers compared to what she did at Loyola, where she led the Ramblers in scoring and rebounding for three consecutive seasons.

Last year, she averaged 32.7 minutes on the court while scoring 12.3 points per game and shooting 38 percent from the floor. During the season, she became only the 25th player in program history to surpass 1,000 career points.

Her all-around game is reflected across the stat line in the past three seasons: 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 blocks.

She was first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference and also made the all-defensive team.

Transitioning from forward to guard, O’Connor said she’s “finding a rhythm, getting more in-game experience and starting to understand what my role is and getting better at it.”