What comes next for the Gonzaga Bulldogs? That really seems the question at the top of this season as the women’s basketball team moves on from the Wirth twins/Townsend era and onto the next page. Although plenty of the team remains from last season, the major faces and identity of the squad have moved on to different things.
The Zags are bringing in some talented pieces, no doubt, but after a disappointing conclusion to the 2020-21 season, in which they earned a No. 5 seed and were upset by a No. 12 Belmont in the first round, the question is whether or not this team has what it takes to make the NCAA Tournament and push through to the second weekend, something the Zags have not accomplished since 2015.
Whose team is this?
Even though a majority of the players are still the same, the Zags are losing significant chunks from last season. Jill Townsend and Jenn Wirth, the top two players in terms of minutes, are also the top two players in terms of usage percentage. For the most part, last season the offense operated through their hands.
The Zags return almost their entire backcourt, so we might see a switch from a forward-focused offense to something led by the Truong twins and Cierra Walker. Walker, the former Vanderbilt transfer utilizing her free super senior year, was the best three point shooter on the team. The Truong twins, led by point guard Kayleigh Truong, are entering their third collegiate season. Whereas last season the Zags had an experienced frontcourt juxtaposed against a relatively inexperienced backcourt, the tables have turned this season.
Was this summer Yvonne Ejim’s showcase for what is to come?
This past summer, Yvonne Ejim helped lead Team Canada to a fifth-place finish in the U-19 FIBA World Cup. She averaged 13.4 points and 9.4 rebounds, putting up a couple of 20+ point performances in the process. It isn’t quite Rui level of hype, but it brings back memories of Hachimura’s performance in the FIBA World Cup for Japan between his sophomore and junior year.
Ejim came into Gonzaga with quite the FIBA pedigree already, but with the Wirth twins on the roster, the minutes were always going to be hard to come by last season. Now, with a wide-open frontcourt, that has changed the equation completely.
Which of the youngsters is going to step up?
The women’s program, much like the men’s, is a young squad. Eight of the 15 players are freshmen and sophomores, and five of those eight are hitting the court for their first collegiate season. This includes the highly-lauded Bree Salenbien, but also don’t sleep on Syracuse transfer Maude Huijbens or Esther Little. Little and Huijbens both play the forward spot, and that is where a majority of the minutes need to be filled. Eliza Hollingsworth showed some flashes in brief spells last season and, as stated above, Ejim looks ready and roaring to go.
What is the ceiling on this team?
The Zags are talented, there is no denying that. But the roster has taken a big hit and there is a good reason BYU was picked to win the WCC. The Zags have an opportunity to make a splash in the non-conference with games against Stanford and Utah, but most likely the path to the NCAA Tournament will go through Provo, and that is a tall task (literally). The Zags are definitely at a point where they can compete for the WCC Championship, but it will also take some quality wins to make it as an at-large, if that is the case.