This was never about revenge, although the issue came up Friday as the Gonzaga women prepared for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and a rematch with sixth-ranked Louisville.
“We don’t want to play with venom,” said Coach Lisa Fortier, whose squad was eliminated by the Cardinal in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last spring.
“We’re playing a good team that’s going to test you and that’s what you have to work on,” Fortier said ahead of Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Both teams are 3-0 but have plenty to work on as they prepare for three straight games against elite competition.
Gonzaga is coming off a 66-64 win at Wyoming, with Yvonne Ejim scoring a career-high 26 points.
“We needed every one of them,” Fortier said. “She lifted our team and gave us a basket every time we needed one.”
However, the Zags shot poorly (3 for 12) from long-range and got only nine points from the bench. That will need to change in a setting where they could play three games in less than 24 hours.
Fortier mentioned forward Maud Huijbens and guards Brynna Maxwell and Calli Stokes as key players coming off the bench to give Ejim and the Truong sisters a breather.
“They have a lot of areas where they can be strong,” Fortier said. “We are going to need quality minutes, and I believe that our team is at our best when our minutes (for the starters) are in the 20s and not the 30s.”
Through three games, Ejim leads GU with a 21.3 points a game. Point guard Kayleigh Truong has 12.7.
Louisville has a similar situation. Guard Hailey Van Lith, a junior from Wenatchee, is averaging 21.7 points but no other Cardinal is in double figures.
Like at Gonzaga, spreading the scoring wealth is part of the culture.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Walz said.
There won’t be a lot of carryover film from last year – GU lost four starters and Louisville three – but Walz said he’s impressed with what he’s seen in the last week.
“They’re a great team,” Walz said. “Lisa is doing a fantastic job. They have scorers in at the guard spot and they drive it extremely well from the high post.”
That was a reference to Ejim in the game at Wyoming, as she made the Wyoming defenders look helpless in the paint.
Walz also worries about his team’s perimeter defense, and for good reason. Despite shooting poorly from long range at Wyoming, the Zags are shooting 43.9% (34 for 46) overall.
Maxwell, recruited out of the portal for her long-range shooting, is 7-for-10.
Meanwhile, Louisville opponents are shooting 51% from range; that puts the Cardinal dead last in the country out of 349 teams.
“Most teams can’t do that in practice,” Walz said. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on and a lot of things to prove.”
GU will face either No. 3 Texas or Marquette in the second round on Sunday, with tip-off time dependent on the result of Saturday’s game.
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