Wooooboy! Not only did we take down an extremely talented team in #3 Stanford, they did it in way that left no doubt that Gonzaga should only be ignored at your own peril while extending their home winning streak to 24 games.
Maybe that statement is a little too far given the absence of Brink beyond the first quarter due to an unspecified illness, but the Cardinal were never able to break into a game that the Bulldogs led for all but 2 minutes. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this win probability chart courtesy of ESPN analytics:
If that doesn’t tell you the story of this game, I guess that’s what I’m here for so let’s dive into it!
The first quarter started with a trailing dead-on three pointer by Cameron Brink followed by a lay-up shortly thereafter that showed her versatile skillset and threat from all over the court. But then, Brynna Maxwell started hunting her shot with two made three pointers to go along with Yvonne Ejim scoring inside and outside as both finished with 8 points this period. At this early stage, Gonzaga was showing us that maybe they were looking ahead in the previous game against Eastern Washington as they played swarm defense in the post and forced the action away from Brink and Kiki Iriafen to the perimeter. This seemed to disrupt the Stanford offensive flow while causing five turnovers that Gonzaga turned into 7 points and an eventual 8 point lead with just under the 3 minutes in the quarter. However, the Gonzaga offense went on a drought for the remaining time as we played sped up and coughed up the only 2 turnovers of the quarter while giving up fouls that allowed Stanford to cut the lead to just three at the conclusion. While it wasn’t the greatest end to the period, the Bulldogs got the message about competing on the glass as they finished with 8 rebounds, including 3 on the offensive end, while Stanford could only corral 5 defensive rebounds. Heading into the second, Zags lead 23-20.
The second quarter saw Gonzaga regain some of their earlier focus as the offense started moving the ball around better, pressured the opposing bigs when the ball entered the paint, and were able to extend their lead to 7 points around the seven minute mark. However, Stanford’s rebounding and ability to draw fouls on our bigs nullified the chances of making a big run as they crawled back within 4 heading into the half. While the Bulldogs won the rebounding battle in the first quarter, Stanford firmly took control in the second as they grabbed 11 total rebounds along with 5 offensive rebounds that helped spur 11 second-chance points. Meanwhile, Gonzaga could only muster 5 total rebounds so not a great quarter in this regard. Thankfully though, the Zags offense only made one turnover (a freshman mistake by Naya Ojukwu incorrectly trying to save a ball from going out of bounds) while forcing Stanford to commit 4 turnovers. Despite losing the rebounding battle, inability to capitalize on turnovers for more points, and a two minute scoring drought near the end of the period, Gonzaga would head into the locker room leading 45-41.
Upon reflection at halftime, Gonzaga’s defensive plan of focusing on Brink and Iriafen, through fronting and aggressive weak side help defense, looked to be successful. That’s not to say it was perfect, as Brink did score 10 points in her 11 minutes, but they limited Iriafen to just 4 points, forced Stanford into 9 turnovers, and were staying competitive in the rebounding battle (17 for Stanford and 13 for Gonzaga). I think a highlight of this aggressiveness was a moment when three Zag players were standing over Iriafen after forcing a jump ball while no one from Stanford was within arms reach. Gonzaga’s offense this season has generally moved through Yvonne Ejim and while tonight was no different (14 points in the first half), Brynna’s aggressiveness on and off the ball was special to watch, especially with the Kayleigh’s shooting struggles continuing from last game (just 2 points on 1-7 shooting at half).
As we came back from the halftime commercial breaks, Greg Heister must’ve known that this Bulldog team needed his presence as he stated that Gonzaga had led at the half in the last three home games against Stanford, but only won one of those matchups. We should all know about the commentator’s curse because they certainly had this effect for at least one team moving forward.
The third quarter started off quiet due to a combination of turnovers, fouls, and missed shots by both teams that lead to nearly two and half minutes without a point. Eliza picked up her third foul shortly after the start, but Coach Fortier trusted the veteran to play smart and avoid getting into further trouble and was rewarded with quality play. Stanford also saw two of their starters dip into the danger zone with both Iriafen and Lepolo picking up their third fouls in the opening three minutes. At the midway mark in the period, the high flying offense of both teams displayed in the previous quarters seemed to shift in favor of a grinding slugfest that was highlighted by Yvonne sporting nose packing in left nostril. However, things drastically changed as play resumed after the under five television timeout. With the Zags up four points, they turned the dial to eleven and went on a 24-10 point run helping to increase their lead to 77-57 at the end of the quarter. While Ejim and Maxwell were putting in work (5 and 7 points respectively in the quarter), I want to highlight Eliza’s two big threes sandwiched around a thunderous blocked shot that I’m still hoping the Zags media team will cut into a highlight for us fans.
After such a thrilling third quarter that saw the Zags drop 32 points, Stanford pushed back with a full court press to open the period, which certainly made it tough to advance the ball, but ultimately couldn’t force any notable momentum shift as the Zags continued to play tough. While Eliza fouled out with a little over 7 minutes remaining, Maud Hujibens came in hot with tough rebounding and impressive shooting on her way to 9 points in the quarter. Yvonne Ejim chipped in 6 points to go along with a block and steal while Brynna continued her offensive domination with 4 points in 5 minutes before picking up an ankle injury that had me absolutely livid since I personally believed she got pushed to the floor on that offensive rebounding attempt. Call me a homer, but I stand by it. As the Bulldogs kept the Cardinal at bay and the game neared closing, both bench and fans stood up and loudly cheered in celebration of their teams deserved and hard fought win, 96-78.
in case you forgot W pic.twitter.com/W7LUxQnx7Z— Gonzaga Women's Basketball (@ZagWBB) December 4, 2023
This game will certainly rank as one of the Zags biggest victories of all time and was probably the most complete game we’ve seen from them this season. They dropped the most points on Stanford since 2000 and must be a scary sight for other teams knowing that Kayleigh and Kaylynne didn’t even reach their season averages. It was also beautiful to watch Brynna Maxwell get in her groove on the way to 27 points (10-16 FG and 4-8 3FG), the most she’s scored since 2020, and amazing to watch the seemingly automatic Ejim cruise to 25 points (10-15 FG). While Kayleigh did not have a great shooting game, she took the distribution reins from her sister on her way to 7 assists and 2 turnovers while Kaylynne wasn’t too shabby as she chipped in 10 points with 4 assists and 0 turnovers. As mentioned above, Maud Hujibens played wonderfully as she dropped 15 points (7-7 FG and 1-1 3FG) in just 16 minutes while Eliza Hollingsworth also added 10 points aided by her two massive three pointers. Callie Stokes may not have the most impressive stat line, but don’t dismiss her because those 3 offensive rebounds were clutch, and if I’m not mistaken, all led to second chance opportunities. It’s worth noting that this team had just 7 turnovers while forcing the Cardinal to commit 16 and competed well in the rebounding department as they snagged 31 compared to Stanford’s 29. Overall, just a beautiful game and if you didn’t catch it live, go watch the replay on ESPN+.
Oh, this dominating performance has also been appreciated by the media as the Bulldogs are now #23 in the nation. Onwards and upwards! Viva la Zags!