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Why the Zags are primed for a strong conference showing

With the non-conference behind them, the Zags need to make a statement during conference to be playing in March.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stanford at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With plenty of returning players from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad, it was fair to assume the Zags would probably be back in the thick of it for March Madness this year. However, that statement doesn’t really acknowledge just how much the Zags lost from last season.

The Zags stand at 8-3 on their non-conference, the third best record out of all the WCC teams. They crept into the rankings (almost) a couple of times this season. The initial ESPNW bracketology had the Zags as one of the last four teams in the tournament, although this was printed before Sunday night’s loss to UC Davis.

However, despite the fact that from a NCAA Tournament perspective, the Zags are currently on the outside looking in, there is a lot to be excited about as the Zags enter WCC play.

Gonzaga’s almost misses

The Zags three losses are by a combined nine points. Two of those near misses, a four point loss to then No. 7 Stanford and a two point loss to Washington State are the definition of good losses. The slip-up against the decidedly mediocre UC Davis is definitely a blemish on the schedule. But considering that the Zags were on the “last four in” mark prior to that loss, a win (or two) over BYU would go a long way to getting the Zags back on stable ground.

There is also some work to be done by other teams on the Zags’ non-conference roster. Montana will presumably enter the tournament as the Big Sky auto-bid. Utah’s surprising turnaround is a great thing for the Zags, who blistered the Utes by 18 in Hawaii. The 10 point win over Stephen F. Austin looks rather tidy as well.

In short, there are some quality wins on that non-conference slate. However, because the Zags missed opportunities against Stanford and Washington State, combined with the UC Davis loss, there is not much room for error during conference play.

The Zags might be the best team in the conference

Per Her Hoop States (a fantastic statistical resource for women’s hoops), Gonzaga is actually rated higher than the BYU Cougars. A large part of that is because the identity of Gonzaga women’s hoops, the defense, is just as strong as ever. The Zags boast a top-20 defense, and that, combined with one specific stat, will always make them a hard out.

Gonzaga attacks the offensive glass like few teams in the country. The Zags average 13.7 offensive rebounds per game, an offensive rebounding percentage of 42.4 percent, good for fifth in the country. Because the Zags’ defense can lock it down like no others, it comes down to converting those second-chance points for Gonzaga. It is why Gonzaga has been such a difficult out throughout the year, and a good reason to think why the Zags will have success in conference play.

The emergence of Kaylynne Truong

Most teams would not be able to absorb the injury to their starting point guard, but the Zags are well equipped considering her twin is a member of the squad and ready to devour those minutes. It hasn’t been all pretty (the six turnover games against Hawaii and Wyoming were a bit startling), but Kaylynne Truong has emerged as a dangerous scoring option for the Gonzaga backcourt. She now leads the team with 12.4 points per game and is shooting 41.8 percent from long range.

It is a huge step forward from last season, in which despite earning 17.4 minutes per game, Truong tended to pass up on the offensive end, only averaging four shots per game. Last season, the offense cycled through the big three of Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth and Jill Townsend.

With all three of those players now departed, the Zags have focused more offensive energy on the backcourt. The success was always dependent on the evolution of the Truong twins, but more specifically Kaylynne, who has not seen as many minutes so far throughout her career as her sister.