The great thing about exhibition games is almost everybody wins.
Playing in front of a genuine home crowd for the first time in 20 months, the Gonzaga women pulled away early from Central Washington on Saturday and coasted to a 78-42 win at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Everyone played and everyone scored.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” GU coach Lisa Fortier noted.
Fortier and her staff employed a bewildering number of combinations, and nearly all worked splendidly. The Zags scored the first 24 points of the game and led 45-10 at halftime before emptying the bench in the third quarter.
But in pulling away from the Wildcats, the Zags didn’t do much to separate themselves from each other going into Thursday’s season opener against Montana State.
The starting lineup wasn’t a surprise. Earlier in the week, Fortier said she expected to start players “who have been with the program.”
On Saturday, that included an all-upperclassman lineup of Kayleigh Truong and Cierra Walker in the backcourt, Abby O’Connor at the wing and Melody Kempton and Anamaria Virjoghe at forward.
But less than 5 minutes later, Kaylynne Truong and sophomore forward Yvonne Ejim were on the floor, with Truong winding up with more minutes than two of the starters.
It’s only one game, but for longtime fans, that sounds a lot like what the Zags did with Jill Townsend, who didn’t start a game as a sophomore, yet led the team in minutes played.
The goal, Fortier said, is finding the right combinations, the right chemistry in the starting lineup and on the bench.
“Kaylynne and Yvonne could be starters, but they’re also pretty good at making something happen,” Fortier said.
“I’m guessing (the starting lineup) will change, but that’s a pretty good starting rotation,” she added.
Fortier also offered some incentive to everyone else.
In a game in which the most telling statistic was minutes played, everyone had a chance to shine.
Kayleigh Truong had a strong start at the point, with a game-high 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. She also had three assists. Kaylynne added five points and three assists as the sisters got some quality time together on the court.
“It means a lot,” Kayleigh said. “I mean, she’s my best friend … but that’s our mindset, to do whatever the team needs.”
Five-star recruit Bree Salenbien was the first of the freshmen to see the court, and she didn’t disappoint. Gaining confidence with every minute, she finished with 11 points, four boards and three assists.
In one 20-second sequence late in the first half, Salenbien logged an assist, a steal and a putback of her own miss.
Gonzaga opened with a 24-0 run and didn’t allow a CWU score for the first 9 minutes, 10 seconds of the game.
The Zags caused 18 turnovers and had 10 steals. GU also held CWU to a 26.3 shooting percentage and only 25% from beyond the arc.
The Bulldogs outrebounded CWU 54-22 and shot 47.6% for the game, though only 4 for 13 from long range.
Tori Maeda led the Wildcats with 10 points as she scored two 3-pointers in her 30 minutes of play.
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