The Gonzaga Bulldogs went into the Chiles Center tied atop the WCC standings with a quality Portland Pilots team and emerged as the top dog in the conference following a 73-66 win.
Gonzaga produced a true team performance, getting stellar production up and down the lineup to piece together an excellent road win to seize control over the conference against a Portland squad that was 6-0 in WCC play going into the evening.
Brynna Maxwell led Gozaga in scoring with 20 points (6-7 3PT FG), and Esther Little produced one of her best games as a Zag with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Kaylynn Truong overcame an injury scare and finished with 12 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals.
The Zags and Pilots played to a tight 35-35 draw at halftime. Ejim got the ball rolling in a positive direction for Gonzaga to start the game, scoring the team’s first 10 points by converting her first five field goal attempts. Thanks to Ejim’s hot start, the Zags held a lead for much of the first half and led by as much as 9 points following back to back buckets from McKayla Williams.
But it wasn’t all Gonzaga all the time. Far from it. The Pilots kept the Zags within reach, and took advantage when Ejim picked up her second foul of the half with a charge in the final seconds of the first quarter and Kalynne Truoung had to leave the game for nearly half of the second quarter with what appeared to be a rolled ankle.
Portland’s Haylee Andrews was the major catalyst to close the gap for the Pilots, hitting consecutive three-pointers and three of four in the middle of the second quarter to close the gap and give the Pilots a brief lead until the sweet-shooting Brynna Maxwell converted a three at the end of the half to tie the game going into the break.
Maxwell picked up right where she left off to start the second half, but Ejim picked up a quick third foul to start the third quarter that sent her to the bench for the rest of the quarter. The absence of Gonzaga’s leading scorer could have spelled doom, but Maxwell stepped up to carry the offensive burden en route to draining a career-high six 3-pointers on the evening. Incredibly, though, Maxwell wasn’t the only person shooting the lights out in the game.
The second half felt like we were watching a person duel between Maxwell and Haylee Andrews who made a career high four 3-pointers that prevented Gonzaga from pulling away. Late in the second half, however, the Zags finally created a little more daylight thanks to a pair of defensive stops courtesy of drawn charges and yeoman’s work on the offensive boards to manufacture some second chance opportunities.
Gonzaga’s depth took over the in the fourth quarter. Neither Ejim or Maxwell logged a single point in the fourth quarter, and yet the Zags still built a 13-point lead in the final 10 minutes with points coming from Stokes (5 of her 7 points in the 4th quarter), Little, Destiny Burton, and Truong. And even when Gonzaga’s offense went cold in the final three and a half minutes, the defense was up to the task of closing out the game.
The final two minutes were marred by a non-contact injury to Haylee Andrews of Portland, who has already come back from one ACL injury and whose absence would change the complexion of the WCC. As it stands, Gonzaga is the team to beat in the conference.