The Gonzaga Bulldogs might be without a few familiar faces this season, but the overall game plan of suffocating defense is still in play, as the Zags clamped down on Central Washington early in a 78-42 exhibition win.
Things were immediately rough for CWU from the get-go. The Wildcats were held to just three points through the first 10 minutes and just 10 points through the first half. The length of the Zags held Central Washington to just 3-of-27 from the floor in the first half and forced 11 turnovers.
On Gonzaga’s side, Melody Kempton, Cierra Walker, Kayleigh Truong, Abby O’Connor, and Anamaria Virjoghe earned the starting nod. O’Connor was quickly saddled with a couple of early fouls. Walker couldn’t get her shot to fall, and Virjoghe didn’t attempt a single field goal in the first half. Truong came ready to pick up the slack, scoring 12 points off 5-of-8 shooting and hitting two threes in the process.
With O’Connor on the sidelines, the Zags were able to rotate a steady stable of bigs. Eliza Hollingsworth had five very efficient minutes in the first half, scoring eight points. Bree Salenbien showcased her versatility, bringing it up the floor, dishing out a couple of assists, and also demonstrating a nice knack for scoring. Yvonne Ejim, fresh off a stellar FIBA_U-19 summer, bullied her way to six points in the post, but also picked up a couple of offensive fouls, which hampered her playing time.
Central Washington put a bit more together in the second half, scoring 32 points. However, they still shot just 40 percent from the floor in the process, and the Zags still forced an additional seven turnovers.
As it is just the first game and an exhibition at that, there is only so many concrete things we can draw from this team featuring so many new faces. One thing is for sure, the Zags have some serious height, and they are going to bully teams with it. At one point during the second quarter, the Zags had four players six feet and over on the floor, with only a Truong sister standing on the “shorter” end. Salenbien was one of those six-plus footers, and her ability to stretch the floor with her shot and handles allowed this short offensive set to still flow.
As was the case last season with the Wirth twins, the ball still gets hammered down low—a lot. The Zags finished with 42 points in the paint. They grabbed 22 rebounds, leading to 26 second chance points. Expect that to be the identity for this squad once again, and their ability to rebound and generate those extra possessions will make them a hard out.
The Zags shot a respectable 47.6 percent from the floor, but the three-point shooting didn’t make a showing today. Gonzaga hit just 30.8 percent (4-of-13) from long range, but that was with Cierra Walker, the best long range shooter on the team, missing her only two attempts.
At the moment, Virjoghe looks to have earned the starting nod with her experience on the team. Overall, it looks like that Fortier will be ready to run out a nearly 10 women roster, potentially 11. The only Zags who didn’t play double digit points were Payton Muma, Calli Stokes, and Esther Little.
That is it for the lone exhibition game. The Zags open their season at home on Thursday, Nov. 11, at 6:00 pm, with a game against Montana State.