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‘We didn’t panic’: Montana goes toe-to-toe with Gonzaga women, but Bulldogs pull away for 83-70 win

Gonzaga guard Brynna Maxwell reacts during a win over Montana on Monday at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.  (Courtesy Gonzaga Athletics)
By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review

The final score won’t show it, but the Gonzaga women’s basketball team found itself in a battle for 32 minutes on Monday.

But that’s when the Bulldogs wrested control, and they did it with authority as Gonzaga pulled away 83-70 over the Montana Grizzlies at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.

Gonzaga never trailed, but there the Zags were clinging to a one-point lead with a little over eight minutes remaining. All of a sudden, following a 24-8 run in a six-minute span, Gonzaga led 79-62 when Eliza Hollingsworth made two free throws with 2:04 to go.

In the season opener for both teams, the Zags erupted for 30 points in the fourth quarter.

“We got ourselves into a little bit of a shootout which is not what we were hoping to do,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.

Gonzaga came within one point of all five starters scoring in double figures. Leading the way was West Coast Conference reigning Player of the Year Kaylynne Truong, who had 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with six assists. Yvonne Ejim had 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists, Hollingsworth poured in 16 points with nine rebounds and two assists and Kayleigh Truong had 11 points, six rebounds and two assists.

Six times Gonzaga had as little as a one-point lead, but each time the Zags fought off the gritty Griz.

The last one-point lead came at 55-54 with just over eight minutes to play.

Fortier pointed to her team’s ability to take control of the game when it mattered.

“We didn’t panic when baskets weren’t being made and balls weren’t going in,” Fortier said. “They were confident that we were going to find something and when we did somewhere in the beginning of the fourth it was game changing.’

Kaylynne Truong ignited the Zags’ fourth quarter offensive eruption with back-to-back 3-pointers, extending the lead to 67-59 with 5:34 to go.

Gonzaga owned the boards in the second half after getting outrebounded 22-18 in the opening half. The Zags outrebounded the Grizzlies 21-11 in the final two quarters.

“The rebound effort in the second half and how we scored the ball around the basket specifically,” Fortier said. “And we took care of the ball with only 11 turnovers. That’s impressive.”

The Bulldogs led 24-14 after the first quarter, but Montana fought back to pull to within four at 32-28 going into halftime.

“We’re veterans and we worked until we found something that was going to be effective,” Fortier said. “I liked the effort that we had. They (the Grizzlies) made tough shots.”

Montana’s usual leading scorer, graduate Carmen Gfeller, a former Colfax standout, was held to four points. She didn’t make a field goal. Central Valley grad MJ Bruno had 12 points.

Next up for Gonzaga is a road trip to Pullman on Thursday to take on the reigning Pac-12 champ Washington State. Tip is at 7 p.m.

The Cougars beat Cal Poly 78-61 in a season opener, also Monday.