Right before the game, Gonzaga received news that star point guard Laura Stockton, who missed the previous four games, would be able to play for the rivalry game, coming off the bench.
The first half was close the entire time, with neither team having more than an eight point lead from each other. For Gonzaga, Jill Barta was her usual self, scoring 15 points in the first two quarters, as she had her way offensively. The Zags were surprisingly great from deep, hitting all four three pointers taken, including a few from Barta herself. Washington State couldn't make their first shot from the field, but almost each time they pulled down an offensive board to keep the possession alive. It was all tied up at 30.
Zag fans collectively held their breath as Barta went down early in the second half with an ankle injury, unable to return. The Cougars took complete advantage, dominating the paint. They only out-rebounded the Zags 45-40, but 28 of them cam on the offensive end. They also won the paint battle, 28-18.
This normally would spell doom, but Zykera Rice had by far the best game of her college career. She had 13 of her 19 in the second half, and was the lone big for Gonzaga to contend with the Cougars frontcourt.
The game was tied after three quarters, but starting guard Jessie Loera (whose played admirably in Stockton's absence at the point), scored five quick points to Give Gonzaga the early lead. Considering how the Cougars were shooting the ball, that ultimately became insurmountable, as they went through another scoring drought. A few free throws by the Zags and they escaped with a 64-56 win.
Both Gonzaga and Washington State made the same number of field goals (21), but Washington State took 75 total shots to Gonzaga's 46. In a reversal of fortune, it was us who shot the ball well, going 6/9 from distance. The Cougars went just 3/22 in the game. Gonzaga may have been able to blow the game open, if it wasn't for their 26 turnovers.
Stockton contributed well off the bench in her first game back, dishing out four assists. She did go 1/7 from the field, but seemed her aggressive self. Emma Stach has been the Kawhi Leonard of defense so far, limiting Borislava Hristova to just 13 points on 5/14 shooting. With the exception of DePaul, every top guard has struggled against her.
Chandler Smith continues to excel in her more prominent role, scoring eight points and bringing down a career high 11 rebounds. Coach Fortier went small with Barta out and out Smith at the four spot, and she did well in the second half.
Rice's official stats are 19 points, seven rebounds and went 7/11 from the charity stripe. There's no question who has the best frontcourt in the WCC, and Washington State had the best opposition Gonzaga will see for the rest of the regular season from inside.
Gonzaga comes back home on Saturday for a game against UNLV, and Barta's status is likely doubtful, considering the amount of time ankles need to recover. But if the supporting cast and the defense continues to improve, the Zags can still win games.