clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Zykera Rice is the X factor for the Zags

For each team that has a successful season there's ways one player whose intangibles can make a difference. For the women, it might be Rice.

NCAA Womens Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs San Francisco Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Just like the men's squad the ladies lose a couple of (big) pieces to their WCC championship team. Starting center Kiara Kudron and starting forward Elle Tinkle both exhausted their eligibility leaving star player Jill Barta as the only big whose played significant minutes. Depending on how training camp and her development goes, the starting center position could go to 6'5 Emma Wolfram, but for now that's an "if".

Also like the zags, the women has reloaded on the recruiting side as well with a pair of four star twins Jen and LeeAnne Worth (both 6'3). Like previous years depth won't be a big concern for the Zags and the team overall should be the favorite to repeat. Whether they advance further, could depend on the development of junior spark plug Zykera Rice.

Rice, played in 27 games averaging 4.5 ppg and 3 rebs shooting 44% from the field in less than 10 mpg. Her game of the year was a double double against UC Irvine with 16 and 10. Despite some good performances off the bench, playing time was hard to find for her for a couple of reasons.

The first simply was the depth chart. She was usually the fourth big off the bench and sometimes the fifth depending whether Coach Lisa Fortier wanted to go small with Elle Tinkle as a stretch four. The girls in front of her either more experienced or in Jill Barta's case... simply better.

The other reason had to do with the role Rice played. Outside of ten feet rice isn't the best shooter in the world and she doesn't have a prototypical post game. She shines the most using her athleticism and physicality to overwhelm WCC opponents particularly in transition. At the same time her energy and high tempo play gave her plenty of "hustle plays" as well. This showed the most during her final part of conference play and into the conference tournament.

The first 17 games of conference play she averaged less than seven minutes per game contributing 2.5 points a game. After a few sluggish performances by the team, Zykera provides the needed energy and gives big performances of the bench the next three games averaging 12 ppg in just under 17 minutes a game. She would've had more of a role in the championship game against the Gaels, but Jill Barta stayed on the court the whole time dropping a record 37 points.

Even though the Zags usually have the upper hand size wise during conference play, their first round matchup against Oklahoma showed that the power conferences still has the upper hand in size, completely throwing the Zags bigs off that night. If they're looking to advance in the tournament in the future, physical play down low will be paramount against bigger teams.

The one young woman who has shown she's capable of doing is Zykera Rice, and if the improvement we've seen towards the end of the season continues into this year, Gonzaga could have a frontcourt not only capable of dominating the conference, but make a run in March as well.