Entertainment is what you make it, especially when you’re up by 40 early in the third quarter.
The Gonzaga women’s 91-38 blowout of Southern Utah on Saturday offered the fans a chance to appreciate the moment.
They saw Eliza Hollingsworth and McKayla Williams go off for career highs and Payton Muma hustling her way into the role of crowd favorite.
“I feel like I’ve definitely earned it,” said Hollingsworth, who is starting for the first time this year after dealing with injuries early in her career.
“It’s really great to have those things you worked for,” said Hollingsworth, who topped all scorers with 17 points and had a team-high six rebounds.
Williams, another first-time starter, had a career-best 15 points.
“The two of them have earned that opportunity,” coach Lisa Fortier said.
Fans also saw Yvonne Ejim hit the first 3-pointer of her career.
It came more out of necessity than choice as Ejim found the ball in her hands with 2 seconds left in the first quarter. Like the rest of the game, her shot was effortless.
It also gave the Zags a 31-8 lead, which grew from there even with the backups seeing bigger minutes than they’re likely to get in most games.
The Zags came in as solid favorites, though the Thunderbirds came in at 2-0 with a win earlier in the week against New Mexico, which is picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference.
GU (2-0) forced a fast pace from the beginning. Two nights earlier against Long Beach State, the Zags ripped off 28 points in the first quarter. This time they scored 31 and didn’t let up from there.
By halftime, the Zags were up 52-15. Two minutes later, the margin was 40.
Southern Utah didn’t hit double figures until early in the second quarter when Daylani Ballenda hit a 3-pointer to make it 31-11.
“I didn’t think it would be quite like it was, but everyone played well,” Fortier said.
The Zags’ depth was on full display all afternoon. Five players scored in double figures and 10 saw double-digit minutes on the court.
Then Fortier read off the individual rebounding numbers; the Zags had 45 overall, but no one had more than six.
“That’s why when the conference stats come out, and we don’t have anybody at the top of the list,” Fortier said. “This is why.”
Payton Muma, a 5-foot-8 guard, will never lead the Zags on the boards, but she made a big impression .
Best known for her end-of-the-bench cheerleading last year with teammate Calli Stokes, the redshirt freshman came off the bench for six points and three steals.
The last one, late in the fourth quarter, drew a big cheer from the crowd of about 4,000.
“This year is completely different,” Muma said. “Last year, Calli and I made a name for ourselves, but to be out there, no, my focus is more on basketball and less on cheerleading.”
The game also was a tough homecoming for Tomekia Whitman, a senior guard at Southern Utah who was part of the national championship team at Central Valley High School along with Lexie and Lacie Hull.
Whitman, a transfer from Idaho State, failed to score. The Thunderbirds (2-1) got 14 points and 10 rebounds from forward Lizzy Williamson.
The Zags are at Wyoming on Tuesday. Four days later, they will be in Paradise Island, Bahamas, to play Louisville in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Gonzaga won’t be back in the Kennel until Nov. 26, when it plays Eastern Washington in a game that tips off at 2 p.m. The Zags will host Maine two days later.
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