The good times were back for the Gonzaga women Thursday night.
Playing in front of a big home crowd for the first time in 20 months, the Zags seized the moment and cruised to a 72-47 nonconference, season-opening win over Montana State.
“It just felt so nice, having the crowd again,” said senior captain Melody Kempton, who didn’t miss the cardboard cutouts and piped-in crowd noise of last year.
“Not at all,” said Kempton, who responded with a double-double: 12 points, 10 rebounds.
The Kennel was only about two-thirds full, but Kempton and the Zags fed off the energy and fed each other with 19 assists.
While one game is a small sample size, the Zags showed signs that several players are capable of big games. And not just the starters.
No one had a bigger night than sophomore forward Yvonne Ejim, who came off the bench for 14 points and eight rebounds. Ejim also made 7 of 9 shots.
“It’s a pretty good feeling right now,” Ejim said . “It’s nice to see how we can progress and grow.”
Ejim saw little action last year as a true freshman, but now she’s the first forward off the bench.
“She’s just so explosive,” Zags coach Lisa Fortier said. “Even when you know she’ll drive, she’ll get past you, and she’s strong with it.”
The only Zag with more points was another backup – point guard Kaylynne Truong, who scored 16 while going 6 for 9 from the field.
All told, four players scored in double figures. Fortier didn’t mind a bit.
Recalling the not-too-distant days when Jill Barta would regularly score 20-plus points, Fortier liked the balance.
“If you can get three or four, that’s usually a very good thing, sharing the load,” said Fortier, who takes the Zags to Montana on Sunday.
GU was a heavy favorite against an MSU squad that struggled to beat NAIA Carroll College two days earlier, and didn’t disappoint.
Pushing the ball aggressively in transition, the Zags were up 14-4 in less than 5 minutes and led by double digits the rest of the way.
MSU trailed 24-11 after one quarter, but got back in the game with a 6-0 run early in the second. A rebound by Ejim, however, led to a pass from Cierra Walker that Kayleigh Truong turned into a 3-pointer and the game was never in doubt again.
GU led 37-19 at halftime and 56-29 after three quarters.
The Zags got a scare in the third quarter when Kayleigh Truong took a shoulder to the face. She returned a few minutes later, pressing an ice bag to the bruise. Not long after that, she was back in the game, finishing with 12 points and a game-high five assists.
Gonzaga shot 52% for the game while holding MSU to 32%. MSU sophomore guard Darian White scored 15 points but shot 5 of 14 from the floor.
“I thought we did a good job on her,” Fortier said. “She’s quick, but we were never in a position where we were one-on-one with her, and we didn’t go for fakes.”
The Zags are at Montana on Sunday before hosting Big Sky preseason favorite Idaho State on Thursday. Defending national champion Stanford visits the Kennel on Nov. 21.
Gonzaga’s Anamaria Viroghe, left, locks up the ball held by Montana State’s Lexi Deden, center, with help from Kayleigh Truong on the right during the Gonzaga matchup with Montana State Thiursday, Nov. 11, 2021 at McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
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