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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Gonzaga women start hot to beat Alabama, one of nation’s top defenses, 68-58 in Betty Chancellor Classic

By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review

The Gonzaga women’s basketball team faced the No. 7 defensive team in the nation in points allowed Saturday.

That distinction, though, appeared to belong to the Zags.

Gonzaga clamped down on Alabama early and often and used a hot first half to handle the Crimson Tide 68-58 at the Betty Chancellor Classic in Katy, Texas.

“I’m proud of our team for playing tough,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “What we did well defensively is we executed the game plan for three quarters, the first two especially. We were able to play hard but also played smart and forced people to their weaknesses. We defended tendencies really well, better than we have all year.”

The Zags (6-1) handed Alabama its first loss. The Crimson Tide had been allowing just 47.7 points per game . Gonzaga reached 47 points a minute into the second half.

Three times Gonzaga pushed its lead to 29 points in the third quarter.

The final 29-point margin came when Yvonne Ejim scored off a nice pass from Eliza Hollingsworth, extending the lead to 54-25 with 5:43 to go in the third quarter.

Alabama used a 19-4 run into the fourth quarter to pull within 58-44 with 6:39 remaining.

After a timeout, though, Gonzaga took it inside with authority again. After shooting 1 for 11 from 3-point range to that point in the second half, the Zags asserted themselves in the paint.

Maud Huijbens and Hollingsworth got back-to-back baskets in the key. Brynna Maxwell’s pull-up jumper put Gonzaga ahead 64-46 with 4:18 to go.

Alabama closed on a 12-4 surge to pull within the final margin – the closest the Tide (6-1) had been since midway through the first quarter.

Gonzaga did whatever it wanted in the first half. Kayleigh Truong’s basket off an assist from Hollingsworth gave the Zags a 43-21 lead at halftime.

Gonzaga made 17 of 31 shots from the field and 6 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half.

“It took them four quarters to figure us out a little bit,” Fortier said. “We were a little tired (in the fourth quarter). We weren’t clicking on all cylinders. We were going away from some of the things that were working early on to give them some different looks.

“Maybe we should have stuck with the stuff that was working early on.”

Ejim led with a season-high 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field. She also had eight rebounds and three assists.

“We played great team defense and also great one-on-one defense, never leaving people on an island, and being disciplined and communicative,” Ejim said.

Maxwell totaled 15 points, three assists and two steals. Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong combined for 15 points, 13 assists, nine rebounds and four steals.

The Zags had 23 assists on 25 baskets.

GU’s Calli Stokes came off the bench to grab eight rebounds to go with six points.

“She came in and gave us a big burst of energy,” Fortier said of Stokes.

Gonzaga wraps up its three-game trip to Texas when it takes on 20th-ranked Louisville (5-1) on Sunday at 10:45 a.m. Louisville downed Liberty 72-63, a day after Gonzaga throttled Liberty 102-59.

“They’re very aggressive,” Fortier said of Louisville. “They’re really going to try and turn us over. They press (and) want to get easy baskets. So hopefully, we’ll have the same type of execution for whatever (assistant coach) Stacy (Clinesmith) sets the game plan as.”