SPOKANE, Wash. – The Gonzaga Bulldogs returned for their regular-season home opener and won their 14th-straight against Eastern Washington, 69-45, in Spokane on Thursday night.
After a two-game hiatus, Jill Barta picked up her fourth double-double of the season leading the team with 19 points and 11 rebounds on five-of-11 shooting. Zykera Rice added 14 points and eight rebounds, a season high, and Chandler Smith was in double figures with 11 points. Emma Stach carried the load on defense, holding Big Sky Preseason Player of the Year Delany Hodgins to 11 points who came in averaging 19 per game, while scoring nine points herself with six rebounds, four assists, and two steals, all season highs. Smith added four assists and a career-high five steals on the defensive end. The Zags dominated the glass 43-25 and forced 19 turnovers for 25 points, a theme for this team this season.
“I love the challenge of guarding the best player on the other team,” Stach said. “I love to play defense, and it is a great honor to try and keep their best player below her averages.”
Both teams started relatively slow on the offensive end, but four early points from Jenn Wirth helped GU to a 6-2 lead six minutes in. Chandler Smith beat the shot clock buzzer to make it 8-2 and EWU finally broke a two-minute scoreless streak late in the quarter. Both teams heated up as the quarter went on and GU led 14-9 at the buzzer. Wirth and Barta finished the quarter with four points each. The Zags hit an empty stretch on field goals to start the second quarter, but Smith finished in transition to keep EWU at bay, 20-16 four minutes in. GU added 12 more on the 12-0 run capped by a layup from Barta on the assist from Smith, and GU led 32-16 with two minutes left. Barta finished the half with 11 points and eight rebounds, and Stach and Smith had three assists each as GU led 35-21. The Zags had 10 assists and nine steals by the midway point.
A layup from Barta and Stach opened the half and built the lead to 18, the largest of the game to that point, but EWU was able to trim it to 10 on an 8-0 run, 39-29, midway through the quarter. The Zags halted the run from there and finished the quarter on their own 13-6 run holding the Eagles scoreless for over three minutes to lead 52-35 after three. Early in the fourth quarter, GU extended their lead to 20+, 57-35, on five early points from Barta. The lead grew as large as 25 late in the quarter as GU won going away, 69-45.
“I am proud of how we attacked,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said. “We knew they were going to play physically and tough, and we controlled what we could and took 40 free throws, and I will take that any day.”
GU ended up shooting 39 percent from the field, but shot 48 percent in the first half. GU attacked the rim all night and was 28-of-40 from the foul line, the most free throws they have attempted since they took 48 against Idaho State in 2014.
The Bulldogs (3-3) will turn around and play Portland State at 2 pm on Saturday in the McCarthey Athletic Center.