The Gonzaga Bulldogs are currently 19-2 and riding a 12-game winning streak. There have been a few close contests during that streak, but in general, the Zags have been on a thoroughly dominating cruise control. Most impressively, they’ve done all of that without three key players in the mix.
The Zags had a trip to remember in the non-conference, where they travelled to the Bahamas and notched two big wins, over then No. 6 Louisville and No. 23 Tennessee. The non-conference schedule and it also takes away, however. The Zags lost starting point guard Kayleigh Truong to a foot injury and primary post backup Maud Huijbens to a concussion. Neither player has seen the court since.
Combine those two losses with the already known potentially lost season of Bree Salenbien, the highest recruit in school history who suffered a torn ACL late last season, and it would be fair to write the Zags off. Teams don’t lose three key players and necessarily absorb that seamlessly.
Like a solid battle-tested team, however, the Zags have responded, and then some. Kaylynne Truong moved over to the starting point guard position and has excelled, second on the team with 15.7 points per game and dishing out 5.3 assists per game. Brynna Maxwell, a transfer from Utah, has helped fill in the backcourt with 14.4 points per game and is shooting an astonishing 51.8 percent from three-point range, the highest mark in the country.
Yvonne Ejim has taken a huge step forward this season, leading the team with 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. Her presence down low, specifically on the offensive glass, is one of the major keys. Ejim averages three offensive rebounds per game.
Those three stars of the team aren’t enough to offset the three losses, and a big reason for Gonzaga’s success stems from the contributions of the supporting role players. McKayla Williams is showcasing more offensive potential to complement her lockdown defensive prowess. Eliza Hollingsworth is a threat to space the floor from three. Calli Stokes goes in like a wrecking ball, providing 20 minutes of hustle each game.
Esther Little, Destiny Burton, Payton Muma, you name it, and it is an exercise in every single player stepping up to help fulfill any void.
The most recent ESPN Bracketology has the Zags as a six seed, starting in Salt Lake City and potentially moving on to Seattle. If that holds, the Zags will enter the tournament as one of the more dangerous six seeds in the field.
A couple of key stats will make Gonzaga a team no one wants to face. The Zags are the nation’s best three-point shooting team (41.2 percent) and free throw shooting team (80.7). The Zags have the shooters to score points in droves, and if the game is going down to the wire, Gonzaga will not leave points at the charity stripe, unlike their male counterparts.
Buoyed by Ejim, the Zags excel at attacking the offensive glass, with a offensive rebound rate ranked No. 34 in the nation. With such lethal shooters across the team, these second-chance points can be the difference between a win and a loss come March.
The Zags have had plenty of talented teams in recent years, but haven’t been able to push past the second weekend since 2015. This year, with the pedigree they have demonstrated so far this season, that goal doesn’t seem so out of reach.