Wow, it's been 11 days since I last posted and I am sorry for abdicating my duties. I got lots of excuses, but how about we just jump into our Women's team performance in the Chancellor Classic and trust that I won't be taking such delays again.
This tournament looks to have been named after Van Chancellor and his wife, Betty Chancellor, although I may be wrong since there isn't a lot of detail about it when searching online. Van Winston Chancellor is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member class of 2007 who had several head coaching stops in his 33 year career, but none more notable than taking the now-defunct Houston Comets of the inaugural WNBA to four straight titles from 1997-2000. As it stands, the Comets are the only team undefeated in the WNBA Finals, with the only other being the Seattle Storm. He also coached the US Women's National team to gold at the 2002 FIBA World Championships and 2004 Olympics in Greece and completed his career with the team undefeated on the international stage.
Heading into this tournament, the Zags were hitting on all cylinders after taking wins in their three games against very different style teams since the tough loss to Wazzu. Ejim was showing great improvements with her early-season foul troubles as she stayed on the court for 29 minutes each game while averaging nearly 20 points/g on an absurd 71% efficiency from the field, Kayleigh Truong had posted two of her career highs in points scored while scoring just three shy of that mark in the game against Wyoming, Kaylynne Truong was dishing the ball out like a boss with 19 assists on just 6 turnovers, and the team featured 5 players averaging double digit scoring figures. What a time to be alive.
Game 1: Liberty
On the first day, the Zags took on the Liberty Lady Flames out of Lynchburg, VA. While unranked, the new CUSA member still represented a good matchup as they were predicted to finish second in their conference and entered the Classic 3-0. Despite the upward trajectory of this program, the Lady Flames were no match for the high flying Zag offense as they fell 102-59.
As the scoreline suggests, this game featured high quality offensive performances for the Bulldogs with none more impressive than two players setting new career highs! Kayleigh broke her previous career high in scoring by dropping 25 points on 8-9 shooting with 5 three pointers while Eliza went off from 22 points, including 4-7 from deep, while also adding 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Kaylynne continued her elite distribution with 8 assists on just 2 turnovers while also contributing 17 points of her own in the onslaught.
As a team, the Zags shot 17-31 (54.8%) from inside the arc while posting a near identical number from beyond at 17-33 (51.5%). This last performance tied the all-time GU Women's three-point shooting that was set in 2017 against former conference members BYU and helped propel the team to their first 100 point game since 2016 against UC Riverside. Given the nature of this tournament and the dominating performance in this opening matchup, I was happy to see Coach limit some of the starters' playing time with only Kayleigh eclipsing the 30 minute mark (which fair given her performance), but with only three other bench players seeing the court, I ideally would have liked to see the minutes spread out a bit more.
Game 2: Alabama
For the second game, the Zags squared up against an undefeated, albeit unranked, Alabama team that was coming off an upset win against #20 Louisville in their first matchup of the tournament. While it was unreasonable to expect the Building to continue their offensive explosion the day prior against Liberty, they certainly came out of the gates hot and efficient by posting 43 points in the first half on 11-18 (61.1%) shooting inside the arc and 6-13 from deep (46.2%) with nearly everyone scoring that saw time on the court except for Esther. Kayleigh continued her excellence by adding 10 points to go along with 5 assists, Brynna showed out for 10 points including two threes, Yvonne had 9 points albeit with two fouls. No one on the Crimson Tide had more than 4 points as they shot just 29% from the field and 1-11 outside the arc. I don't think it's far off to say that while watching this half, Gonzaga looked nearly unstoppable.
However, the game is 40 minutes and the second half was not nearly as fun to watch with Gonzaga's offense seemingly drying up and some questionable calls from the referees that saw the Bulldogs record 10 fouls compared to Bama's 3. While the team shot 11-28 from two-point range, they went 5-12 in the fourth quarter and the overall shooting numbers were inflated by Yvonne's 7-8 shooting that essentially carried this team thru the mud. While credit must be given to the defensive changes made by Alabama, including tighter matchups on the perimeter, the Bulldogs missed a number of open shots that could have been their downfall without the stellar first half performance. That being said, good teams find ways to win even when it's not going your way so big ups to the team for winning it out.
Game 3: Louisville
On the final day of the Classic, the Zags squared up against perennial power #20 Louisville. Given the performance in the first two games and our overtime win last season in the Battle 4 Atlantis, when the Cardinals were ranked sixth, there was room for optimism to come out of the tournament hoisting a trophy despite a rough second half against the Crimson Tide.
The game started out tight as Gonzaga trailed by as much as five heading into halfway mark of the first quarter before the Truong sisters took to the free throw line to make seven of eight and help the Zags end the period up 21-19. However, the Bulldogs couldn't capitalize on the lead as Louisville came out hot with guards Jayda Curry and Kiki Jefferson scoring 8 of her 13 points and 10 of her 21 points respectively while the Zags could only muster 15 total points led by Yvonne's 8 and the Cardinals regained the lead 47-36.
Coach Fortier could not have been happy at the half and made some changes on the defensive end that helped restrict Kiki Jefferson to just two points coming from free throws in 9 minutes and the Cardinals to just 12 points on 5-13 shooting. The Gonzaga offense looked to regain some of its mojo as Brynna posted 8 points with two three pointers and the team shot 8-12 from the field with just two turnovers while forcing the opposition into five to post 20 points in the quarter and cut the deficit to 59-46. However, the Cardinals would not be stopped and put on a blistering display in the fourth quarter to win the game 81-70 as they shot 9-11 from the field in the final period with Gonzaga looking out of sync and playing tight.
Despite the loss, I think the team should feel proud of their performances as three games in three days is about as grueling at gets at this level. While there are some critiques, the team's effort during the Classic was overall strong and sometimes, the shots just aren't going to fall. For a team shooting 40.9% from three point range (7th in the nation) and 54.6% overall (24th in the nation) on the season, the final 6 quarters are hard to stomach, but I like that these poor moments were not necessarily owing to the Zags getting pushed around by bigger/better teams and moreso relating to just the random element of basketball. I have faith that this team will move forward in style
Lastly, I want to give a big shout out to the following members of the team:
- Kayleigh Truong was announced to the All-Tournament team as she shot 10-13 from two and 7-20 from three while also dishing out 17 assists, 10 rebounds, and 6 steals. Hats off to the graduate student who. has made an impressive impact after an injury riddled 22-23 campaign.
- Yvonne Ejim was named as WCC Player of the Week as she continues her scorching year that has her averaging 18.8 ppg on 68.1% efficiency (70.8% true shooting), 7.9 rbg, 3 apg, 1.4 spg, and 0.9 bpg. I love watching her play and look for her to continue this high level moving forward
- Kaylynne Truong has 49 assists at this stage in the season for 6.1 apg, which puts her 3rd in the nation. It's even more impressive given that she has just 18 turnovers to make for a 2.72 A/T ratio which is a substantial improvement from her 1.72 mark at the end of last year. Her scoring may be down from the 22-23 season, but with how well the team is performing on offense, she has to get credit for facilitating much of the success.
Thank you for reading and hit the comments below for additional thoughts!