You know, coming into the start of WCC Conference play, I was feeling like the Zags may have another tough foe in the Santa Clara Broncos. They were sitting at 12-3 with wins over the likes of Oregon and Arizona State while possessing the second highest NET ranking in the WCC at #60.
However, in the two matchups between the Zags and Broncos, the Bulldogs have not only emerged victorious, but achieved their wins in dominating fashion. In the first meeting in Spokane, the Gonzaga blitzed Santa Clara 87-49 with an impressive well-rounded scoring game from nearly every player. Personally, I wondered if this performance came down to some of the chance that defines all sports, but particularly basketball, given that the Zags played at home, were clearly hitting on all cylinders, and Santa Clara failed to really ever get out the gait.
However, Thursday’s performance left no doubt in my mind that this team can absolutely wreck teams as the Bulldogs went into Santa Clara’s home and essentially clamped down anyone not named Tess Heal on their way to an 82-45 victory. As a team, Gonzaga shot 35-65 overall, 9-24 from deep, snagged 43 rebounds compared to just 19 by the Broncos, completed 25 assists, and made just 11 turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Broncos shot 16-50 overall, 2-16 from three, and completed just 8 assists compared to 12 turnovers. Outside of Tess Heal’s 22 points on 8-16 shooting, no other Bronco player shot over 50% on the night and none other player reached double digit scoring. Importantly, after scoring 14 and 15 points in the first and second quarters respectively, the Broncos essentially fell off the deep end as they would only go on to score 16 total points across the second half on a brutal 6-26 shooting performance.
Things I really liked or stood out to me from Gonzaga on the night:
- Passing — while this team creates a high number of assists per game, nearly 20 at this stage in season, the team looked incredibly fluid throughout the entire course of the game. There were several times in the first quarter when it seemed like the Bulldogs must’ve had eyes in the back of their head with some of their reads as as epitomized in the clip below. In that first quarter alone, Gonzaga made 8 assists (!), led oddly enough by Eliza with her 3 dimes. The 25 assists made on Thursday represent a season high for this team and it was lovely to watch the unselfish play. Kayleigh led the team with 6 assists followed by Kaylynne with 5 then Eliza and Bree with 4 each.
Another road win in the books pic.twitter.com/iRV8ptxB7B— Gonzaga Women's Basketball (@ZagWBB) January 27, 2024
- Rebounding & Second Chance Scoring — as noted above, the Zags outrebounded the Broncos 43-22 but what I didn’t mention was the distribution of those rebounds as the Zags grabbed 11 offensive rebounds compared to just 3 by the opposition. Something I’ve bemoaned a bit in the past has been the inability for this team to consistently capitalize on those offensive rebounds in some games, but that was not an issue on Thursday as the team went on to complete 16 points on those opportunities. By my count, the Zags converted all of their second chance chances in the first half and only failed on about 3-4 opportunities in the second half. With the Broncos trying to crash the post, players like Yvonne and Eliza and, to a degree, Maud consistently looked to the perimeter to find their teammates for wide open jumpers. The clip below came off of one such play, although the video doesn’t show the whole sequence well enough for full context in my opinion. Yvonne led the team with 13 rebounds, including 5 from the offensive glass, while both Kaylynne and Maud came away with 5 a piece.
strength and hustle pic.twitter.com/wkxATouWru— Gonzaga Women's Basketball (@ZagWBB) January 26, 2024
- Defense — as stated by a couple players this season, defense will be how this team wins the big games and tonight was a pretty darn good performance. While there’s not really great highlight clips from the night, the Bulldogs did a good job restricting driving lines primarily by playing aggressively on the perimeter with switches on the Broncos pick and roll attempts while making smart rotations to clog the lanes. There were several times when I was a bit worried with one of the Truong sisters having to guard one of the bigs from those switches but I don’t think the Broncos ever capitalized consistently enough to force a scheme switch by Fortier. Clearly, the Zags have the Broncos number as while they were able to hold a manageable deficit of 42-29 going into the half, they would only go onto score 16 points across the second half.
- Brynna Maxwell — she may not have had a particularly good game when just looking at the boxscore with her 12 points on 5-10 shooting overall and 2-7 from three, but without looking deeper, you won’t appreciate her mental fortitude. Across the first three quarters, Brynna had just 2 points on 1-6 shooting, including 0-5 from deep, and while the game was clearly out of reach heading into the fourth quarter with the Zags up 59-36, Maxwell stayed aggressive on her way to 10 points in just 3 minutes of play. I never played anything other than low-level basketball, but I understand that anyone in sports can get mentally dejected from a poor performance in a game so to see her not get flustered and to continue hunting for her shot speaks volumes to me.
- Maud Hujibens — what a night for the junior forward! After big games against Stanford and Cal that saw her score 15 and 8 points, the Dutchman had been pretty quite with her highest scoring game being just 6 points and only shooting 41%. However, Maud matched her career high of 15 points against the Broncos on an amazing 7-8 shooting performance while also grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists. Always great to see bench players hit their stride and showout. Keep it up!
Career night for Maud pic.twitter.com/d5D1VXN8qv— Gonzaga Women's Basketball (@ZagWBB) January 26, 2024
- Yvonne Ejim — what else can you say? She’s been an absolute stud across the entire season. She’s scored double digits in every game thus far and has double-doubled in seven games while almost reaching that mark in two others with 9 rebounds against Toledo and Cal. Beyond her offensive domination of essentially all opponents, she’s been a rock on the defensive end as she leads the team in blocks and is tied for second in steals while just doing all the small things right to help anchor a defensive unit that certainly achieves a bit more on the court than on paper. If she’s not an All-American at season’s end, I’ll be dead surprised and while I’m not someone to appropriately estimate the ability to translate her talents to the WNBA, I have to suspect some team is eyeing her for the next level. One thing to keep in mind is that while she is a senior, I believe she may still have an extra year of eligibility from the Covid-19 waiver, although I’m not totally sure, so I wonder if we could have her for an extra year if that’s the case.
This team is so much fun to watch and if you’re not checking their games out, I cannot stress enough how much you could enhance your life if you do. #GoZags