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Gonzaga women lock down San Francisco in final minutes, survive for 55-49 win

It wasn’t pretty, but the Gonzaga women did just enough Monday night to avoid making some unwelcome history.

Not since 2001 have the Zags lost back-to-back home games, but that looked like a distinct possibility as USF took them down to the wire.

However, the Zags closed out the game with a 10-1 run to beat the Dons 55-49 and remain tied atop the West Coast Conference with BYU.

GU was coming off a disheartening loss to BYU two days earlier, and the hangover appeared to linger in front of a sparse crowd at the Kennel.

“I thought we were really gritty,” Coach Lisa Fortier said after a game in which neither team had a double-digit lead at any point.

USF led most of the way in a game that included an offensively challenged first half, a remarkable performance off the bench from forward Yvonne Ejim and finally some clutch plays at the end.

One of the biggest came with 3½ minutes left and the Zags trailing 48-45. GU forward Melody Kempton had the ball underneath but with two defenders in her face. Suddenly she sent a bounce pass left to a streaking Anamaria Virjoghe for an easy layin.

“Mel was telling me to run for the basket,” said Virjoghe, who added a turnaround jumper from distance to give GU the lead for good, 49-48.

Kayleigh Truong had a 3-point play with just over a minute to play to push the lead to five, and her twin sister Kaylynne iced the game with a driving layin with 22 seconds left.

With the win, GU improved to 18-5 overall and 9-1 in the WCC. USF which had won five of its previous six games, fell to 12-12 and 6-6.

Neither team could find its offensive rhythm in the first half, which ended with the Zags trailing 22-20.

GU missed 12 of its first 15 shots and didn’t make a 3-pointer in its first seven tries.

Fortunately, USF was only slightly better as the Zags clamped down on athletic guard Ioanna Krimili.

“We told them that we needed to be confident shooting,” Fortier said.

“Sometimes we let one part of the game affect the other,” Fortier added, alluding to the second-half collapse two days earlier against BYU “Twenty-two points in the half is a pretty good effort, so I was trying not to be too hard on the offensive side.”

For the game, GU shot 32.8% (21 for 64).

Ejim was the Zags’ offensive mainstay throughout the game. Playing only 21 minutes, she finished with a team-high 17 points along with eight rebounds.

“Yvonne did a great job,” Fortier said. “She got (eight) rebounds and she shot 50% (7 for 14). And when it wasn’t going well, she didn’t look rattled.”

The Zags also cut down on their mistakes. After committing six turnovers in the first quarter, they had just five the rest of the way.

“We struggled at the beginning, but we never gave up,” Ejim said. “It was just that grinding, that we are that team that can come back from adversity.”

Melody Kempton had a game-high 10 rebounds as GU outboarded USF 45-37.

USF forward Kennedy Dickie had a game-high 21 points.

The Zags are on the road this week, Thursday night at Santa Clara and Saturday at USF. Monday’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 30 but postponed by COVID-19 protocols.