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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Gonzaga women’s basketball, led by four preseason All-WCC players, picked to win conference

Gonzaga guard Kayleigh Truong brings the ball down court against Long Beach in a 2022 game at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga is picked to finish exactly where it ended up last season – and nearly every season under 10th-year women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier.

The Bulldogs, who have won seven West Coast Conference regular-season titles during Fortier’s tenure, are heavily favored to repeat as champions in the coaches preseason poll, released Wednesday at WCC media days.

Gonzaga collected eight of nine first-place votes – coaches aren’t allowed to vote for their own team – for the maximum 64 points. Portland, which edged the Bulldogs 64-60 in the WCC Tournament title game last March, was picked to finish second and received Fortier’s first-place vote.

GU players occupied four of 10 spots on the preseason All-WCC team, led by 2023 conference MVP and AP All-American honorable mention Kaylynne Truong. The 5-foot-9 guard was joined on the team by twin sister Kayleigh, limited to 10 games last season due to injury, Yvonne Ejim and Brynna Maxwell. Kaylynne Truong, Ejim and Maxwell were first-team selections last season.

The Zags had something of a head start when they opened fall drills, thanks to an experienced roster that also benefited from an international tour to Greece and Croatia over the summer.

“We have a lot more in than we would normally have in, and we’re changing our focus a little bit,” Fortier said. “Last year, I don’t know if we overfocused on the offense, but that was where our gifting was. We we’re talented defensively, but we didn’t defend how we wanted to last year, so we’re really trying to focus on some areas there.”

The Zags finished 28-5 last season and won the WCC by two games, but they dropped their final two games, including a 71-48 setback to Ole Miss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The ending has provided ample offseason motivation.

“That always sits in the back of our minds,” Ejim said.

“It definitely lit a fire in everyone’s bellies a little bit,” Maxwell said. “It kind of shined the light on what we need to work on. Honestly, we got a little complacent last year and kind of shot ourselves in the foot and we could have done a lot more than we did.

“One of our goals this year is to be uncomfortable and push ourselves to the limit, pushing ourselves hard every day and holding each other to those standards. I think we can go far, but it just comes down to how hard we want to work for it.”

Fortier believes this crew has a chance to be among her best teams.

“We have really talented players, and I think we might have the right pieces that could fit together well,” she said. “Sometimes you’re limited and have just a defender, or just a shooter or just the rebounder, but we have more multidimensional players which hopefully serve us well.”

Kaylynne Truong is coming off a breakout season. She averaged 15.9 points and 5.1 assists, easily career highs in four years as a Zag. She set a school record with 94 made 3-pointers in her first season as a full-time starter.

Kayleigh Truong averaged 7 points and 2.8 assists. She contributed 11.2 points and 3.8 assists while earning first-team All-WCC honors in 2022.

Ejim, a 6-1 senior forward from Calgary, Alberta, also had a breakout year, putting up a team-leading 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. She paced GU in blocks (30) and was second in steals (48). She was a semifinalist for the Becky Hammon Player of the Year Award.

Maxwell, a 6-0 senior guard, averaged 13.5 points and connected on 84 3-pointers with 48.3% accuracy, second in the nation. She hit 94.9% of her free throws to establish a school record.

Ali Bamberger of Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara’s Tess Heal, San Francisco’s Jasmine Gayles, Pacific’s Liz Smith and Portland’s Maisie Burnham and Emme Shearer joined the four Zags on the preseason All-WCC team. Burnham led Liberty High to a State 2B title before playing her freshman season at Eastern Washington.

Pacific and Santa Clara shared third place with 41 points, one ahead of San Diego. Saint Mary’s was sixth, followed by San Francisco, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.

GU’s annual Numerica Fan Fest is Saturday at 3 p.m. at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Admission is free and tickets aren’t required.