LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga’s Yvonne Ejim knew what she had to do Monday. The same thing she did barely a week earlier against the same player.
That’s harder than it sounds, because Ejim was up against Lauren Gustin of Brigham Young, the leading rebounder in the country, in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals.
Lose and BYU’s season would be over, but Ejim made sure it was with a dominating double-double in Gonzaga’s 79-64 win at the Orleans Arena.
Nine days earlier in the regular-season finale at BYU, Ejim got the better of Gustin as Gonzaga won 58-51 to clinch the WCC regular-season title. That game was won in the paint, as Ejim outscored Gustin 19 to 8 and was outrebounded only 14 to 10.
That tied a season-low for Gustin, who averages almost 17 rebounds a game.
Could Ejim do it again? She couldn’t wait to find out, especially after Gustin had a conference-record 27 boards in a quarterfinal win over USF.
“I really like playing against a real test, because she’s such a great player, a real challenge, and I know that,” Ejim said “It really is energizing to me. I want to go after her to stop her, and I want to get the rebound she usually gets.”
Ejim did that and more on Monday. Despite only 28 minutes on the court, her 21 points and 11 boards were both game-highs. Gustin played all 40 minutes yet managed just nine points and a season-low nine boards.
“Did you know that was a season-low?” a reporter asked her after the game.
“I did,” Ejim said, provoking laughter in the room.
Ejim also excelled in the open court, getting three steals and a career-high five assists.
She also came up with the highlight play of the first half. With the Zags leading by two points, she stole the ball in BYU’s backcourt and raced downcourt to produce an old-fashioned 3-point play and give the Zags a 23-18 advantage they would never relinquish.
Later she drew the biggest cheer of the game from the Zag-dominated crowd when she rejected Gustin’s shot into the seats.
“She is all over the place,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said. “She’s energetic and she doesn’t have a lot of holes in her game.”