It’s only mid-January, but Saturday’s home game against San Diego feels bigger than that for the Gonzaga women.
Both teams are 2-0 in the West Coast Conference and riding as much momentum as possible despite the recent postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most important for their fans, the Zags are back in the Kennel after what must be the longest midseason absence in program history.
It’s been almost five weeks since the Zags’ last home game on Dec. 12, when they beat Stephen F. Austin. Since then, they’ve faced a full-court press from the coronavirus and have been forced to postpone three of their first four WCC contests.
As of Friday, none of those games had been rescheduled.
“We’re ready to be back,” said GU coach Lisa Fortier, whose team is coming off a dominant 92-51 win Thursday night at Pacific.
That was the easy part. On the flight home, the plane was almost rerouted to another airport because of heavy fog in Spokane.
“We’re definitely looking forward to playing here on Saturday,” Fortier said.
It’s unclear how many fans will be there for the 2 p.m. tipoff. Prior to the pandemic, the Zags averaged about 5,500 fans for home games.
After playing in an empty Kennel last season, attendance hasn’t recovered to pre-COVID days. The Stanford game on Nov. 21 drew a full house of 6,000, but the other five home games had fewer than 3,500 each.
Attendance is down around the country, though not for GU men’s games, which are still packed. COVID is probably the main reason, and aggravated by the fact that the GU women play in front of an older crowd.
Fans now have another reason to stay away. Because of COVID worries, GU has suspended food and drink service at all ticketed athletic events.
As fans of the men’s team already know, that applies to all concessions in the McCarthey Athletic Center, the Herak Club, Karen Gaffney Champions Room, and ’63 Court hospitality spaces.
The quality of the product on the court is still solid. The Zags are 11-4 overall and ranked 31st in the NCAA’s NET rankings. San Diego (10-4) isn’t far behind at No. 76 in NET.
“They are deep, physical and aggressive,” Fortier said of the Toreros, who’ve won four straight and are coming off an 80-48 win at Loyola Marymount.
Steph Gorman leads the Toreros with 10.8 points a game and Sydney Hunter is averaging 5.6 rebounds.
The Zags are among the most-balanced teams in the conference, with Melody Kempton, Yvonne Ejim and Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong each averaging between 10 and 12 points.
GU ranks seventh in Division 1 in average rebounding margin at plus 11.3.
The Zags are home again next week against Portland, a team they beat on the road on Jan. 6.
GU has won the past 10 meetings, though the teams met only once last year because a COVID-related postponement couldn’t be made up.
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