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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Women’s basketball: Maud Huijbens showing a flair for finishing for No. 19 Gonzaga

Maud Huijbens has a bigger role coming with the Gonzaga women’s basketball team.

The 6-foot-3 junior forward from Hilversum, Netherlands, has shown glimpses of her potential this season after missing two-thirds of the year last season with concussion complications.

The first indication of Huijbens’ potential came in early December in Gonzaga’s 96-78 upset of then No. 3-ranked Stanford. Huijbens made 7 of 7 shots from the field, finishing with a career-high 15 points.

In the Zags’ two-game swing to the Bay Area last week, she matched her career high against Santa Clara and followed it up with 12 points against San Francisco.

Huijbens is one of the first substitutes off the bench on a team that starts four graduates and a senior.

“Maud had a great weekend,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “She’s not going to be named the player of the week because she didn’t score enough points … but she’s gaining confidence.”

Huijbens is averaging the most minutes (19.5) of any reserve and most points (6.5) and rebounds (3.7). She’s shooting 54.1% from the field and 53.8% from 3-point range.

The majority of Huijbens’ playing time is quality minutes – not mop-up duty at the end of blowouts.

Fortier expects Huijbens to step into graduate forward Eliza Hollingsworth’s position next year. Gonzaga’s coach has praised Huijbens on her work of becoming a finisher around the basket.

Huijbens isn’t looking ahead to next year. She wants to help the Bulldogs finish what they’ve started this season. The Zags are ranked 19th and tied for the most wins in the nation (20-2) and have yet to be challenged in the West Coast Conference (7-0).

The Zags visit last-place San Diego (4-16, 0-7) on Thursday.

Gonzaga beat San Diego 85-67 on Jan. 13.

The Zags return home on Saturday in their first game against Pacific (13-7, 5-2), which is tied with Portland in second place.

Glad to be home

Eastern Washington has played five of its first seven Big Sky games on the road.

The Eagles (16-4, 6-1) begin a four-game stretch at Reese Court, starting Thursday against Montana State (11-10, 5-3) followed by Montana (14-5, 6-2) on Saturday.

“We are happy to be home,” EWU coach Joddie Gleason said. “We get a little home cookin’ at Reese Court.”

EWU suffered its first conference loss Saturday at Northern Arizona (14-5, 6-1), falling 89-81 in overtime to the reigning conference tournament champs.

NAU knocked the Eagles out of the tournament last year in the semifinals.

EWU was picked in the coaches’ preseason poll to win the Big Sky and NAU was tabbed by the media as the preseason pick to win the conference.

“That’s our toughest road trip of the year travel-wise,” said Gleason, whose team beat Northern Colorado 68-62 two days earlier. “Both are quality opponents. We’re happy to come out with a split. NAU is a really tough team. They’re pretty deep. They have a really good post player (Sophie Glancey), probably the best post in conference, and she’s surrounded by a bunch of shooters. You have to pick your poison.”

The rematch at Reese Court is Feb. 22.

“We gave (NAU) a run for the money and played some good basketball and just came up short,” Gleason said.

Gleason said graduate guard Jamie Loera and sophomore guard Aaliyah Alexander have been the Eagles’ most consistent players. Alexander is averaging a team-best 16.1 points per game and Loera is scoring 12.6 per game. Loera is also averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists.

“They fill up the stat sheet, for sure,” Gleason said. “We lean heavily on them and they also defend the top guards in the conference.”

Gleason said the Eagles need to make strides in a key area the rest of the season.

“We haven’t started (games) very well,” she said. “We need to start games better and be a little more consistent offensively and take better shots.”

Life after the upset

File this under “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

Washington State got a split in its trip to Los Angeles last week, capping it with an 85-82 upset over then No. 2-ranked UCLA on Sunday.

The Cougars (15-6, 4-4) are home this week against two more ranked teams. On Friday, WSU takes on sixth-ranked Colorado (17-3, 7-2) and No. 20 Utah (15-6, 5-4) on Sunday.

Colorado is in second place behind Stanford (19-2, 8-1).

The Cougars will have play without one the best players in school history – point guard Charlisse Leger-Walker, who suffered an ACL injury to her right knee in the third quarter against UCLA.

WSU coach Kamie Ethridge announced Wednesday Leger-Walker was lost for the season and would undergo reconstructive surgery.

“We’re devastated for her dreams and our team,” Ethridge said. “Now we have to regroup. I’m excited for our team. We’ve had a practice and they responded in a good way. We’re going to try and regroup and be really good this weekend against two top teams in the country.”

Another watch list

Gonzaga senior forward Yvonne Ejim has been named to the “Wade Watch” list of candidates for the 2024 Wade Trophy, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association announced Wednesday.

Ejim joins the preseason list of 16 candidates.

The Wade Trophy is the oldest and most prestigious national player of the year award in women’s basketball. It is named in honor of the late Delta State University head coach Lil Margaret Wade, who won three consecutive national championships with the Statesmen.

Same honor, different week

Somebody on social media this week suggested that the WCC rename its player of the week award to the Yvonne Ejim Player of the Week honor.

Ejim had back to back double-doubles in the Zags’ wins last week. She had 13 rebounds in both road wins and averaged 20 points.

It’s the fifth time this season Ejim has won the award.