The Gonzaga women never quite found their comfort zone Saturday afternoon at the Kennel. San Diego made sure of that with its size, and its aggressive, pressing defense.
Yet the Zags found a way to win, beating the Toreros 76-66 in their first home game in almost five weeks.
“I forgot it had been that long,” coach Lisa Fortier said after a game that was never quite a blowout or a nailbiter.
Mostly, it was a grind.
Two days after blowing Pacific out of its gym by 41 points, the Zags appeared bothered by the Toreros’ size and tenacity.
“We knew it was going to be a grind,” Fortier said. “They’re talented and their know how to pressure you.
“We just had to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
GU led almost the entire game, but never by more than 10. But the Zags found the buckets they needed, often because they were able to find Yvonne Ejim, and improved to 12-4 overall and 3-0 in the West Coast Conference.
The sophomore forward finished with eight rebounds and a team-high 15 points, most of them coming on passes from guards Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong.
The twins combined for 10 assists, and they also found a way to score.
Together, Ejim and the Truongs accounted to 41 of the Zags’ 76 points.
“She makes my job easier,” said Kayleigh Truong as she sat alongside Ejim after the game.
Ejim is on a roll. She’s scored in double digits in five of her past six games, including a career-high 22 at Portland nine days earlier.
She expected a physical game from the Toreros (10-5, 2-1).
“And I didn’t want to shy away from that,” Ejim said. “I want to go in take on their aggressiveness.”
Ejim did that too, especially in the fourth quarter.
The lead was down to 46-43 when Ejim answered with a runner and a fastbreak layin. That made it 50-43.
Another jumper from Ejim gave GU a nine-point lead with 5 minutes left.
At that point, San Diego’s aggression repeatedly put GU at the foul line, and the Zags responded by making 20 of 22 attempts in the fourth quarter alone.
Already one of the better free-throw shooting teams in Division 1, the Zags are sure to climb higher in the rankings by making 24 out of 29 on the afternoon.
San Diego took 28 trips to the foul stripe, but made only 16.
The first half was tight throughout, but GU led most of the way after Kaylynne Truong’s made it 8-7. San Diego took a brief 11-10 lead, GU went up 16-11 after a stepback jumper from Ejim and a slicing drive by Abby O’Connor.
Erica Martinsen, however, drained a long 3 at the buzzer to tie the game at 16-all after one quarter.
GU took its biggest lead of the half, 33-24, on a 3-pointer from Bree Salenbien, who had made all four of her long-range shots at Pacific.
Gonzaga led 35-30 at halftime on the strength of 14-for-30 shooting from the field. The Zags were only 4 for 15 from long range, however, and held the barest advantage on the boards, 20-19.
Gonzaga outrebounded the Toreros 40-36 and held USD to a 38.6% from the field.
It will be only five days until the next home game, Thursday night against Portland.
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