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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

‘We have veterans’: Coach Lisa Fortier leans on experience to try to guide Gonzaga through middling WCC slate

By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review The Spokesman-Review

Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier admits her team knows how good and, in many cases, how not-so-good opponents are in the West Coast Conference.

Her pregame speech for the showdown against Stanford was obviously more passionate than most pregame chats, against – fill in the blank – especially against most WCC teams now that rival BYU has left.

Fortier and her staff don’t camouflage the truth, either.

It’s not difficult to keep her team motivated, though. The Zags want to stay sharp because bigger things are ahead in March.

“That’s the challenge every year for us,” Fortier said about keeping focused in January and February. “This year, hopefully, we’ll attack it in different ways. We’re working as a staff to figure it out. We all know as a staff the strength of the other teams, but (the players) come to their own conclusions and that becomes more challenging.”

That’s why Fortier and staff keep things real with their players.

“For us, we have veterans,” Fortier said “They know that at any point any team, if you don’t show up, can beat you. We’re spending a lot of time studying other people. We’re trying to improve ourselves. We’re going to add new things to keep it fresh. We have to focus on continuing to improve. Hopefully, we can help them experience the things that have happened that have gotten us when we’ve gotten too casual or we haven’t showed up well for a team. Hopefully, we’ll be able to convince them of the things we’re teaching them, that they matter and they’ll find a way not to fall into any of those ruts this year.”

Gonzaga, which slipped a notch to 17th in the Associated Press rankings Monday, visits Loyola Marymount (7-9, 2-2) on Thursday before a Saturday afternoon game at home against Saint Mary’s (8-9, 1-2).

Huge victory for Cougars

Washington State needed a Pac-12 victory in the worst way after having lost its first three conference games.

And the Cougars broke through in impressive fashion, posting a 72-59 road victory over Washington on Sunday.

It gave WSU (12-5, 1-3) a split in its series against the Huskies. They lost a conference home opener to Washington in early December.

“Getting four, five, six people in double figures, I really think that is our path forward,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge told the Seattle Times on Sunday. “That’s when we’re at our best … really good steps. I think we’ve tried to make some big adjustments as we’ve gone forward. If this is an indication of where we’re going, I like what we’re doing.”

The Cougars hope to stay headed in the right direction when the Arizona schools visit this weekend – with Arizona State on Friday and Arizona on Sunday before their most difficult conference road trip the following weekend in Los Angeles.

Right where they should be

Eastern Washington is at the top of the Big Sky Conference, exactly where the Eagles were picked.

The Eagles are the lone undefeated team in the Big Sky.

EWU extended its winning streak to seven with a commanding 67-44 win at Idaho on Saturday.

The Eagles (13-3, 3-0) return home for a pair of games, beginning Thursday against Weber State (5-12, 2-2) and Saturday against Idaho State (6-9, 2-2).

“This team is so awesome that our coaches get them ready with our scouts,” EWU coach Joddie Gleason said. “Then our players buy-in with what we want to do. They are watching film on their own and they make sure to take notes. They do everything we ask and they transfer it to the court.”

Aaliyah Alexander led EWU, matching a career high with 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field.

“Aaliyah always has that mentality where she is always calm and exposes peoples’ weaknesses,” Gleason said. “We had some size mismatches, so we took her inside or Jamie (Loera) found her in transition for a (3-pointer). She is just a tough matchup and we try to run through her. Jamie, Jaydia (Martin), Jaleesa (Lawrence) and Jacinta (Buckley) are all tough. Aaliyah is the most consistent right now, especially if we’re struggling to score early in the game.”

Delayed but deserved

Gonzaga graduate guard Kayleigh Truong was on track to reach the 1,000-point club last year until a foot injury sidelined her for 23 games.

Truong eclipsed 1,000 points Thursday.

“She obviously would have reached it last season if she’d had the opportunities we were hoping she’d have,” Fortier said. “She’s been scoring baskets for us since Day One. She came out in our exhibition game and she had 19 in her freshman year. What’s most impressive about her isn’t the 1,000 points, actually, it’s how she’s evolved as a player. She’s been a great passer and scorer since she got here, but now she’s a really good defender. That’s fun to watch, the evolution of her game.”

Kayleigh Truong has 1,028 points through five seasons. Her twin sister, Kaylynne, has 1,303 also through five years.

Senior Yvonne Ejim, who was named to the 2024 Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award watch list, leads the Zags with 1,370 in four years.

Graduate Brynna Maxwell, a two-year starter and transfer from Utah, moved to 1,704 points for her career last week. She had 1,024 in three seasons at Utah.

Gonzaga’s fifth starter, graduate Eliza Hollingsworth, has 567 points in 87 games.

Early bracketology

Charlie Creme of ESPN is the Joe Lunardi of women’s basketball bracketology.

For a second week in a row, Creme has Gonzaga hosting first- and second-round games. The Zags are pegged as a No. 4 seed against 13th-seeded Ball State.

Creme has EWU also playing at Gonzaga as a 12th seed against No. 5 Oregon State.

WSU is seeded eighth at top-ranked South Carolina against No. 9 Iowa State.