The Gonzaga Bulldog’s women’s basketball team, much like their male counterparts, lost a lot of key pieces from last season’s squad. Granted, not as many, but any time you lose players of Zykera Rice’s, Laura Stockton’s, and Chandler Smith’s caliber, you can expect a bit of a setback.
Facing a difficult non-conference schedule, which only featured five home games, the Zags have shot past all expectations any sensible fan would make. This squad is ranked No. 17 in the country, owns quite a few quality wins, and only has one loss—the best loss possible really—in overtime to the Stanford Cardinal on the road. Looking at this team midway through the season, it is hard to give them anything but an A across the board.
For the Zags, defense has been the name of the game so far this season. Gonzaga holds opponents to just 34.7 percent shooting from the floor, with all of those missed shots adding up to a paltry 53.9 opposing points per game. This team defense aggression translates to a lot of free points for the Zags (nearly 22 points per game come off of turnovers).
In each game this season, the defense is the key. The Zags’ offense is more than capable, but it doesn’t have the firepower of some of the other big names in women’s basketball. Gonzaga averages nearly 20 points per game more than their opponents, but the balance of minutes across the board means no one player is really taking over games this season. Jenn Wirth leads the team with 11.3 points per game and Katie Campbell is in second at 11. Four Zags average double-digit points, but the game high this season has only been 19 points from Wirth (against Dayton).
That balance is what makes the Zags so deadly. Where as in men’s basketball this season, no good team has really been able to rise to the top, parity in women’s basketball is a completely different story. There are a lot of incredibly good teams, a bit of a gap, and then the rest of the good teams. Gonzaga finds themselves in the latter half, but has already demonstrated this year they can make life difficult for the top teams.
In the loss against Stanford, the Zags competed in a brutally physically and ugly game, and although they lost, Jenn Wirth went 0-for-11 from the floor. Usually, against most opponents, if one of your top player throws up a donut, it is hard to pull off the win. And yet, the Zags almost did that in overtime.
With Jessie Loera commanding the point guard like a true senior leader (a nearly 2:1 assist to turnover ratio) and Campbell proving herself to be one of the more deadly three point shooters in the nation (tied for fifth in the nation at 50%), the Zags backcourt is producing the veteran results necessary to help push this team perhaps a bit further than it could normally go.
That is what will make the Zags dangerous come March. As Gonzaga has demonstrated it can hang with anyone on the defensive end, all they will need to do is muster just enough offense to pull off the win. In a one-and-done situation, a two point win is just as good as a 20 point win—that matters in March.