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Zags WBB Take on Rice

is it a meal? a Mitch Hedberg joke? oh wait, it’s the Owls!

Gonzaga completes their two-game roadtrip against the Rice University Owls today at 3pm in a matchup that will be televised on ESPN+. Let’s check out this small, but highly respected, private school in the heart of Houston.

Rice Women’s basketball may not have a rich history of success, but has certainly been experiencing some of their greatest historical success since 2016 as they’ve won 20 games every year, except the 21-22 season, while making the Tournament in 2019 and winning the NIT in 20-21.

After moving from CUSA, Rice has joined the American Athletic Conference and was selected to finish third in the AAC Preseason Coaches Poll and are currently 5-3 with losses coming against TCU, Georgia Tech, and Stephen F. Austin. As a team, the Owls are scoring 67.9 ppg, holding opponents to just 58.8 ppg, while shooting 38% from the field as a team and 33.3% from deep. Offensively, they’ll look to shoot from deep often (22 3PA per game) and while their efficiency numbers may lag behind the Zags, they are pulling down an average of 15 offensive rebounds per game. This doesn’t create many assists (just 13.1 apg) and no single player is currently averaging >2 per game so it will be interesting to see if they play iso-ball as much as those numbers suggest. To put that into context, Kaylynne Truong has 73 assists on the season while the entire Rice Owls team totals just 105. Interestingly, the team usage rate suggests that they lack a single, go-to player as six players average >20% compared to Gonzaga’s three. Needless to say, it will be fun to watch these stats in action.

Heading into the season, 6’2” junior forward Malia Fisher was selected to the Preseason All-Conference Second Team after achieving All-CUSA Second Team honors last year. She’s currently averaging 24 mpg during which time she’s posting 8.7 ppg, 6.6 rbg, 1.3 spg, and 1.0 bpg. Her shooting efficiency may not look great for a forward at 44%, but if you count just her shots from inside the line, that number bumps to 52.6%. Along with limiting her attempts inside the paint, she seems to have some issues with foul trouble as she’s averaging 3.1 fpg and that number would be higher if you exclude the game against SMC last month where she didn’t commit a single foul. That could be a recipe for disaster for the Owls if she’s paired against Ejim down low. As a side note, when looking at her profile, her hometown is listed as Dacula, GA and my brain definitely stopped for a minute because I thought it said Dracula.

5’9” sophomore guard Dominique Ennis leads the team in minutes (25.8 mpg) and scoring with 12.6 ppg on 44% shooting from the field. While she may not have the gaudiest scoring numbers, look deeper and you’ll see that her true shooting percentage bumps up to 56.8% as she attempts nearly 7 three-pointers per game, making 35% of those shots. Notably, her numbers represent fantastic improvement from her freshman campaign when she was posting 5.8 ppg (38% FGM) in just over 19 minutes per game.

The apparent 6th woman off the bench appears to be 6’0” sophomore guard, Maya Bokunewicz. Despite not starting a single game this year, she’s second on her team in points with 9.3 per game while shooting a blistering 48.7% from deep on 4.2 attempts per game. Weirdly enough, her two-point field goal percentage actually drags down her total percentage as she’s converting just 30% of those shots. What a line for the analytic gawds though as it means she’s posting a team-leading 58.9 TS%.

Gonzaga will be looking to continue their winning ways while at the same time shaking off whatever demons were holding them back in the shooting department from Thursday’s game against Cal. I’m loving the shot-hunting from Brynna Maxwell, but it’s really tough watching Kayleigh Truong struggle. Since leaving the Van Chancellor Classic, Kayleigh has shot just 6-25 (24%) and if we eliminate her six free-throws from last game, averaging just 5 ppg. While her commitment to getting other players involved has been wonderful, 5.6 assists on just 1.67 turnovers, it would be nice to see her pickup that shooting form she seemed to leave in her previous trip to Houston. As I highlighted after last game, the lack of scoring options off the bench means that our starters need to carry that load, which isn’t ideal, but it’s the way this cookie has crumbled. I agree with Osco’s comments after last game about O’Connor potentially making more impact as the season goes forward and would love to see us have such a scoring threat, even in short bursts, come off the bench and give the starters confidence in taking breaks.

All in all, I expect Gonzaga to head home with the W today, but given that this is their third game in 6 days, it will not be easy on the legs so regardless of Rice’s statistics thus far, this opponent cannot be underestimated. ZAG UP!