The Gonzaga Bulldogs have flashed glimpses of this disciplined team on the offensive and defensive end all season, but they finally put it together for one of their best games, taking down the No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers, 68-55, to advance to the second round.
Nebraska started out hot from the three point line, hitting three threes in a first 10 minutes. Otherwise, the Zags’ defense was holding up pretty well. The Cornhuskers only had one other field goal in the quarter. The Zags actually shot at a pretty decent clip, 46.15 percent in the first quarter. However, Nebraska took a 16-14 lead into the second quarter, a lead that would’ve been larger if Cierra Walker hadn’t hit a three at the buzzer.
Nebraska’s threes helped them keep pace, but the Zags started the quarter with a nice offensive run buoyed by the strong start from Melody Kempton and Yvonne Ejim. A scary collision at midcourt put the brakes on Gonzaga for a bit. Nebraska guard Jaz Shelley tried to draw a charge a shade over the halfcourt line (the dumbest, dumbest play ever), and the end result was Kayleigh Truong bouncing off Shelley and hitting her head against the ground. She would leave the game but come back later and sit on the bench.
The Zags held on, thanks to their advantage in the paint, taking a 33-30 lead into halftime.
Kayleigh Truong returned for the third quarter and immediately made an impact on both the offensive and defensive ends. With the Cornhuskers struggling with foul trouble in point guard Shelley and star freshman Alex Markowski, the Zags began to execute crisp half court sets. Kempton continued her stellar game, and the Zags extended their lead 54-43 going into the final 10 minutes.
The Zags depth was on display in this game. Anamaria Virjoghe did a stellar job handling Markowski on the defensive end and adding some free points in the process. Virjoghe, who averages just 3.5 points per game, scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Truong’s gritty performance was one for the Gonzaga ages, leading the Zags with 20 points. Yvonne Ejim and Melody Kempton each chipped in 14 points.
The Zags kept the pressure on the fourth. Whenever Nebraska scored to try and close the gap, Gonzaga immediately answered. The Zags dictated the pace of play and flustered Nebraska constantly, finding easy and open looks all over the floor.
With the win, the Zags advance to the second round and will most likely play the No. 1 Louisville Cardinals on Sunday.