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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Gonzaga women have to go through ‘extremely physical’ Texas team to reach program’s second Elite Eight

By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review

PORTLAND – The magnitude of the game suggests that the Gonzaga women’s basketball team faces its most difficult test to date Friday.

After all, the fourth-seeded Zags (32-3) take on No. 1 Texas (32-4) in the Sweet 16 at the Moda Center. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

The fourth-ranked Longhorns are 5.5-point favorites. Seeding aside, they may not be the best team Gonzaga has played.

Gonzaga has played NCAA Tournament qualifiers Stanford, Louisville, Alabama, Utah and Arizona. Of those five, Stanford is the lone team playing.

Nonetheless, Gonzaga must play well to have a chance against defensive-minded Texas.

Texas’ offense is generally fueled by its defense. The Longhorns score often in transition, but don’t shoot the 3-pointer as much as most teams.

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said of her team’s game plan. “We watched a lot of film. They’re extremely physical. We’re going to have to match their physicality. They rebound the ball well. They’re so big out there.”

Gonzaga graduate wing Brynna Maxwell agrees with her coach about rebounding.

“Texas is a very good team,” Maxwell said. “They are very good rebounders. That’s their biggest asset. One of our biggest things is trying to box them out (and) take it away. It’s a tall order because they are so good. It’s kind of their super power.”

Graduate forward Eliza Hollingworth said Gonzaga hasn’t played a team like Texas.

“From what they look like on film, they look super athletic, super strong … play super hard,” Hollingsworth said. “That’s an important way to win throughout this tournament. You just can’t win one way, you have to win multiple ways.”

As of Thursday afternoon about 11,000 tickets had been sold for Friday’s games at the 20,500-seat Moda Center, home of the NBA Portland Trail Blazers.

Hollingsworth was asked if being in Portland felt like being at home.

“As much as it is closer to home, it’s still not a home game for us,” Hollingsworth said. “We still have to travel. We haven’t played in this arena before. It’s an unfamiliar setting. The good thing for us is hopefully, our fans get to come out and make the travel because for them it might be a bit easier (than for Texas).”

Hollingsworth said the Zags aren’t surprised to be in the Sweet 16.

“We knew that we could get here,” Hollingsworth said. “I’ve been here for five years and we haven’t been able to get to this stage yet. It’s a testament to our program, our team, how hard we fought throughout the season.”

It’s Gonzaga’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since Fortier’s first season (2014-15).

The Zags have qualified for seven straight NCAA Tournaments, but whether they like it or not – and Fortier doesn’t like it much – Gonzaga is regarded as a midmajor.

“There’s the Power Five and there’s most of the teams who are outside of that,” Maxwell said. “There’s not a lot of disrespect, but there is some hesitancy to support those teams. There’s a little bit of an underdog feel even if teams have talent. It’s really cool to kind of put on the stage that Gonzaga might be considered a midmajor but they don’t play like it. Excited to see how that translates onto the court (Friday). Our entire team is ready.”

Gonzaga senior forward Yvonne Ejim can’t wait for the Zags to measure themselves against the Longhorns.

“Their physicality is a big factor for their team,” Ejim said. “They utilize it well. It’s something that we’re definitely going to have to match.”

Texas coach Vic Schaefer is in his fourth year at Texas. The Longhorns have made the Sweet 16 in three of his seasons.

The 32 wins by Texas this season are the most since 1987-88.