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NCAA women’s tournament: Gonzaga starts strong against Little Rock and never looks back

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Zykera Rice led the Zags with 18 points.

NCAA Womens Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Zykera Rice scored 18 points and Katie Campbell added 15 as the Gonzaga Bulldogs stampeded past the Little Rock Trojans into the second round, 68-51.

Much like their male counterparts, the Bulldogs regular season ended on a disappointing note, losing in the WCC Tournament championship to the BYU Cougars. Unlike their male counterparts, there were easy excuses: injuries to both Jill Townsend and Laura Stockton.

Going into this first game, there was a question of how the Zags would respond. On top of losing two of their top players to injuries, head coach Lisa Fortier’s brother passed away the morning after the championship game. After the first quarter, the Zags showed the resiliency they’ve displayed all season, and then some.

Gonzaga opened the game on a 16-0 run and finished the first quarter leading 21-2. Little Rock would mount a bit more effort in the second quarter, but the Zags still took a 32-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.

As it has been throughout much of the season, the defense shined brightly throughout the contest. The Zags held the Trojans’ leading scorer (14.8 per game), Ronjanae DeGray, to just six points on 3-of-12 shooting. Kyra Collier, the Trojans’ second-leading scorer (14.7), finished with six points. Collectively, Little Rock shot just 32.8 percent from the floor.

Jesse Loera started for the Zags at point in place of the injured Stockton, dishing out six assists—same number as Chandler Smith. Between the inside force of Rice and the outside shooting of Campbell, who finished with five three pointers, the Zags authoritative start was more than enough to keep this one out of stressful range.

The Zags flirted with a potential four-seed, but the loss to BYU sent the Zags to the fifth-seed, which still is the highest seeding in program history. The losses to put an asterisk on expectations for this postseason run, but so far, things have started out quite nicely.

The second round matchup could be a doozy for Gonzaga. The Zags will face the winner of No. 4 Oregon State and No. 13 Boise State, which means a potential game against the Beavers on their home floor.