Gonzaga took the game to the visitors from South Dakota State and were able to earn their first win against the Jackrabbits while also extending their home winning streak to 25, which I believe ranks fourth all time (I might be so wrong but I can’t easily find list of those records). Let’s review how this matchup played out.
The first period started a bit sloppy with both teams making turnovers and missing shots, but the Zags quickly found their footing and jumped out to an 11-0 lead. Meanwhile, the Jacks couldn’t get into their flow because of Gonzaga’s tough defense that limited easy shot opportunities and forced the opposition into more turnovers than made baskets (4 to 2). Brooklyn Meyer was properly contained as she could only score 2 points on 1-4 shooting with just 1 rebound while second-leading scorer Paige Meyer was held scoreless on her four shot attempts. As for the Zags, Yvonne led the team in scoring this quarter with 10 points on 5-6 shooting while Kayleigh looked sharp with 6 points on two deep balls to go along with 3 assists and Brynna chipped in 4 points from midrange. Heading into the break, Gonzaga held a commanding 24-8 lead
After an abysmal first quarter, the Jackrabbits came out with some intensity to start the second period as they added 7 points in the first 3 minutes compared to just 4 from Gonzaga. From then on, the Bulldogs got back into their offensive flow and were able to keep the Jacks at bay as they could only cut the lead down to 14 points midway through the quarter. Eliza led the way with 8 points on 3-3 shooting (2-2 from deep) while 6 other Gonzaga players registered 2 points or more including bench players like Callie Stokes, Claire O’Connor, and Naya Ojukwu. But not all was shiny as Zags defense wasn’t able to suppress the Jackrabbits as well compared to the first quarter and they posted 24 points on 50% shooting to cut their deficit slightly to 46-29 entering the half.
Naya going to work under the basket pic.twitter.com/rSm5nnXaa8— Gonzaga Women's Basketball (@ZagWBB) December 17, 2023
While the second quarter wasn’t a bad performance, the Jackrabbits were threatening to chip away at the healthy lead the Bulldogs built in the first quarter. However, Coach Fortier and her team clearly were not having any of that nonsense as they went on a 19-8 run across the first five minutes of the third period and built the lead up to 30 points midway through the quarter. While the Zags’ offense slowed down some for the remainder of the period, the defensive intensity notably picked up and prevented any attempt by the Jackrabbits to remain competitive as Gonzaga extended their lead to 74-46 heading into the fourth.
After a tough first half performance with just 6 points on 3-8 shooting, Brynna Maxwell exploded in the third quarter for 9 points while Eliza stuffed the scoresheet with 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. Yvonne may not have scored the way we’re used to seeing, but she was successfully battling hard against Brooklyn Meyers and picked up a block and steal while also not picking up her fourth foul.
There was a scary moment early on in the final period as Kaylynne drove to the hoop and missed a contested layup before falling awkwardly and crashing into the stanchion. Thankfully, she was able to get up under her own power and seemed more shook-up by the collision with a stationary object rather than any discrete injury. While that would mark the end of her night, Gonzaga called in the reinforcements who held strong and limited the Jackrabbits to just 12 points in this quarter as Gonzaga would go onto win 83-58.
While that Stanford game was a complete as it may get, Gonzaga came back from their eight day break hungry, particularly on the defensive end. No starter from the Jacks surpassed their season scoring average and the only players to score more than ten were bench players Mesa Byom and Jenna Hopp, who both scored just 12 after averaging just 6 and 4 points respectively heading into this game. Brooklyn Meyer scored just 4 points on 2-7 shooting while only adding 2 defensive rebounds and failing to register a block. Paige Meyer also struggled as she scored only 7 points on a rough 3-11 efficiency while also giving up 4 turnovers. Sometimes defense means having to restrict one or two players while giving up chances for others, but not tonight.
Gonzaga achieved this domination by forcing turnovers through tight cover defense, good rotations, and crashing the paint when the ball went inside to cause confusion. This lead to the Jackrabbits coughing up a season-high 17 turnovers that the Bulldogs were able to convert into 21 points. And this wasn’t the collapse of just one player as all but one player from South Dakota State committed at least one turnover and the only one who didn’t do so played just 1 minute. Meanwhile, Gonzaga played smart as they earned 21 assists and committed only 8 turnovers, including zero during that scorching third quarter performance, which South Dakota State could only turn into 4 points.
While I highlighted the blocking numbers for this Jackrabbit team heading into this matchup, they only created 2 compared to Gonzaga’s season-high 7 including 3 from Yvonne Ejim. To put that into some context, heading into today’s game, Gonzaga was only averaging 3.4 blocks per game.
It’s also worth noting that despite the Bulldogs’ leading rebounder, Yvonne (8.2 rbg), only managing 3 rebounds, Gonzaga still owned the glass with a 38-27 rebounding margin including 16 on the offensive end that lead to 18 second-chance points. While I’m not sure about how the second chance points would rank on the year, it certainly felt like one of the highest to date.
For a game as one-sided as this one turned out to be, it’s easy to assume that one player just found their gear and took over, but that wasn’t the case as the entire team looked motivated to play great ball and add to the cause.
Eliza didn’t attempt a shot in the first quarter, yet finished with her third double-double of the season and led the team in scoring on the night with 17 points on 6-9 shooting, including 3-4 from deep, to go along with 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
Yvonne was slightly inefficient for her elite standards as she only scored 16 points on 8-14 shooting, but I think that’s pretty darn good given her stout defensive performance, the defensive talents of the SDSU post players, and accomplishing this in just 25 minutes. Additionally, she did it without getting into foul trouble as she only had two tonight and her consistency in that area is wonderful to see.
Brynna may have gone 1-5 from three point land, but she shot 6-11 from inside the arc on her way to 15 points in just 26 minutes. More importantly, I think her aggressiveness on that end of the court will be essential for this team to reach their maximum potential so keep on hunting your shot Maxwell.
Kayleigh’s shooting numbers don’t look great, just 4-11 overall, but she did go 3-6 from deep on her way to 11 points and quite a few of her misses looked that close to falling in the net. It’s also important to highlight that while her scoring is very important to this team, she dropped 6 assists and 0 turnovers tonight, she . Hopefully she’s walking away from this game with some improved confidence after shooting just 10-37 since returning from the Van Chancellor Classic. She even hit the 10th team three pointer of the game and as we all know, that means TACOS!
I can’t imagine what it’s like to play basketball wearing the kind of mask Kaylynne has to wear at this time so to go out and play 19 minutes, likely more if she didn’t bang into the stanchion like she did, and contribute 4 assists and 2 steals while only turning the ball over once should be applauded by the fans. Sure, I would have loved for her to shoot better than 3-11 (2-7 from deep), but this wasn’t even her worst shooting performance on the year so I have hope moving forward.
16 bench points isn’t much compared to other teams, but I suspect this amount represents one of the higher and well-rounded contributions Gonzaga has reached this year. Obviously this game was a blowout so one might expect the bench to play more, but I don’t think Fortier was forcing those players onto the court; I think they earned that time with their performances today. Callie Stokes looked electric leading the 3⁄4 court pressure while also contributing 6 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block. Naya Ojukwu could’ve had more than 2 points if she made any of her four free throw attempts, but she still brought value to the court with her 4 rebounds and 2 assists while playing stingy defense down low. Claire O’Connor kept the defense honest with her shooting threat and chipped in 4 points to go along with 3 rebounds, all on the offensive glass. Maud may have a been a bit quite tonight with just 2 points, but she led the team in steals with 3 so don’t sleep on her. Esther may not take a shot outside of 10 feet this year, but when she’s on the court, she’s bringing the toughness as exemplified by catching an inadvertent shoulder to the face that she kind of just shook off. Hopefully she’s alright.
The biggest takeaway I have from this game is that I’m not the only one who thinks Kaylynne’s mask resembles a certain superhero:
All joking aside, great team performance and one that should boost the team’s confidence as they head to Phoenix to take on Arizona in the Jerry Collangelo Classic on 12/20 at 4:30pm EST. While technically a neutral game, this matchup will almost certainly feel like an away game as the stadium is just under 2 hours away from Tuscon and I can’t imagine those roads will be tough to navigate this time of year.
Hit the comments below to sound off on your impressions because I really think ya’ll bring a lot to the table as an educated fanbase. Thank you!