The Gonzaga women opened their season against the top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, who have not lost in over a year and won a game this past Wednesday by 81 points. The Bulldogs gave them all they could handle, and led in the fourth quarter, before some unfortunate foul shooting turned the game around. South Carolina pulled away late with a 79-72 victory.
Both teams came out firing offensively. Gonzaga shot 10-for-15 from the floor, while the Gamecocks converted on 9-of-17 shots. South Carolina used their clear size advantage to get to the foul line 11 times to give them a 25-23 advantage after the first 10 minutes of play. As usual, Coach Fortier utilized her depth, playing 10 players in the first quarter alone. Freshmen Lily Scanlon and McKayla Williams both made appearances.
Things cooled off in the second quarter. With their starting point guard, Kayleigh Truong, on the bench for basically the entire first half with two fouls, her sister Kaylynne and Scanlon filled in admirably, combing for five assists and just one turnover. Gonzaga did a great job on All-American forward Aliyah Boston, holding her to just four first half points. But they had few answers for Zia Cooke, who played all 20 minutes and led all scorers with 13 first half points.
Despite all the foul trouble, a 15-4 discrepancy at the foul line, and a 2-for-9 performance from deep, Gonzaga only trailed 38-34 at halftime. Jenn Wirth led the Zags with 10 points with Jill Townsend adding seven points and four assists.
After hitting two threes in the first half, the Zags drained four in the third quarter and tied the game midway through the stanza. But they couldn’t finish buckets inside and South Carolina went on a mini-run to grab a 58-52 lead heading the fourth.
That hot shoot shooting continued for the Bulldogs. Kayleigh and Towsend hit back-to-back threes to give Gonzaga a lead with six minutes to play. After trading baskets, Truong got fouled beyond the arc. Trailing by a point, she had a chance to give Gonzaga another lead with three minutes to go. A 77 percent foul shooter a year ago, she missed all three free throws, then turned it over the next possession, and Jenn Wirth missed a shot the following trip down the court. South Carolina capitalized on all three of those mistakes and blossomed the lead from one to eight just like that.
Gonzaga outshot South Carolina from the field (53% - 47%) and from beyond the arc (9-2). But the Gamecocks shot a whopping 41 free throws to Gonzaga’s 13, which is quite the difference. Destanni Henderson was the star in the second half for USC, finishing with 23 points and going 10-13 from the line. Gonzaga got a team-high 16 from Jenn Wirth, 15 points and seven rebounds from Townsend, and 13 points and seven rebounds from Cierra Walker in her debut.
This is back-to-back seasons where Gonzaga had a shot to beat a top team. They took third-ranked Stanford to overtime in Palo Alto last season, but could not pull off the win. Lisa Fortier’s squad will turn around and take on a really good South Dakota team, who won 30 games a season ago. That game tips at noon on Monday.