After losing a heart-breaker at home to UNLV without Barta, the Zags had two more non-conference games to get things together before Dec. 28 versus Pacific to start WCC play. What happened in the past week and a half has been the best basketball the Zags have played yet.
Gonzaga beat St. Francis 97-74
In the first game, the Zags utterly dominated from start to end, never scoring any less than 22 points in any quarter. Jill Barta made her return, scoring nine points and six rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. Even if she didn’t play, Gonzaga’s overall size absolutely overwhelmed St. Francis. The Zags out-rebounded them 54-14, and scored a whopping 64 points in the paint.
They were led by last week’s WCC Player of the Week Zykera Rice, who scored a career-high 23 points to go along with nine boards. She wasn’t the only player to have a career-high that night, as freshman Jenn Wirth, started in place of Barta had her first double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Her twin sister LeeAnne had 9 and 7 as well. Jessie Loera, Chandler Smith and Jill Townsend scored in double figures as well, and as a team combined shot 60% for the game, the best under Coach Fortier.
Gonzaga beat Western Illinois 80-65
The Leathernecks were already going to be a tough opponent to face, but after beating their first ever top-25 opponent in Stanford a few days prior, this actually became an opportunity for a good win.
That opportunity looked shaky at first, with Western Illinois racing out to a decent lead in the first quarter. But that was easily erased by the Zags, who went on a 25-13 run to take a small half-time lead.
The third quarter was key to the win, with Gonzaga going on another run to take the lead to double-digits. Then it was the defense and rebounding, that clamped down on Western Illinois to seal the win.
Three Zags finished the game with double-doubles, led by a now-healthy Barta who returned to the starting lineup and ended with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Rice continues to dominate on the boards with 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Smith had 12 points and 11 rebounds as well. In total, the Zags out-rebounded the Leathernecks, 61-42, with 29 coming from the offensive end.
Even though Gonzaga struggled from three-point range again, they still managed to constantly break the zone of Western Illinois to get the ball inside. This could quietly be a good resume win for the Zags.
Stay tuned over the Holiday break as I break down this team more deeply, including some keys that bodes well, and others that might worry Zag fans.
Merry Christmas and Go Zags!!