The Gonzaga women picked a great time to get their inside game going.
Playing in their first game in more than two weeks, the Zags were utterly dominant in the paint Thursday night as they held off host Portland 76-65 in their West Coast Conference opener.
The Zags (10-3) not only controlled the boards against their Northwest rival, but got career scoring games from Melody Kempton and Yvonne Ejim.
Kempton got rolling early, scoring 19 points in the first half and finishing with a game-high 25.
Ejim came off the bench and played only 21 minutes, but she posted a double-double – 22 points and 10 rebounds – before fouling out late in the game.
The win added to a remarkable streak for GU, which hasn’t lost at Portland since 2001.
The game marked the first time since December 2017 that two GU players scored 20 or more points in the same game.
GU outrebounded the Pilots 42-27 – and yet they didn’t wrap up the game until the final minute.
The Zags led 62-49 with just over 5 minutes left, but Portland (10-3) cut the gap to five before GU finally clinched the game at the foul line.
That, too. wasn’t easy. GU came into the game shooting 79.2% from the foul line, the seventh-best mark in the country, but it made only 22 of 36 free throws on the night.
The Zags hadn’t played since winning at Eastern Washington on Dec. 21.
The Zags’ next game, Saturday against Santa Clara, has been postponed because of the Broncos’ COVID-19 issues. GU’s next scheduled game is Thursday at Pacific, followed by a home game Jan. 15 against San Diego.
Portland star forward Alex Fowler was scoreless in the first half but had 12 points in the third quarter, including a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. GU, however, opened the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run sparked by Ejim.
Portland led 8-2 early on a pair of steals, but GU slowly made up ground to tie the game at 12.
Gonzaga used a 9-0 run midway through the second quarter to take a 22-19 lead. The GU advantage hit 26-19 late in the half.
Gonzaga led 34-33 at halftime on the strength of Kempton’s 19 points and 8-for-10 shooting.
Despite COVID-19 concerns that forced postponement of the first week of WCC games, 11 Gonzaga players saw action.
Portland put 10 players on the court but was without 6-foot-6 starting post Lucy Cochrane.
Gonzaga senior Cierra Walker, from nearby Oregon City, Oregon, finished with eight points and made 2 of 4 shots from long range.
The Zags had 11 turnovers by halftime, but only four in the second half.
Fowler and Emme Shearer scored 17 points apiece for Portland.