SPOKANE, Wash. — Even though the season opener is still almost three weeks away, leaving plenty of time for fine-tuning, it is clear the Gonzaga University women’s basketball team has already discovered what may be its biggest strength: depth. That forte was certainly on display during Fan Fest.
Nine players scored at least five points during Saturday’s annual scrimmage at the McCarthey Athletic Center, which was the first chance for fans to catch a glimpse of the 2013-14 team. For the record, the Red squad topped Blue 49-37.
“Any time your team, especially the young kids, have a chance to play in front of the public, that’s a good thing,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “We did some good things today and there was some stuff that we’ll work on — we’ll watch film and we’ll break it down — but overall, I thought it was pretty good for a first scrimmage.”
After a few weeks of battling each other behind closed doors, the players seemed to welcome the opportunity to play in an atmosphere more representative of a real game. They also relished the chance to interact with the fans before and after the scrimmage.
“It’s something I was really looking forward to,” GU sophomore Elle Tinkle said of Fan Fest. “Last year, I was just completely humbled by how many people came out. Obviously, this isn’t a full game or anything, but a lot of the fans want to show their support. They are just as excited as we are.”
Tinkle’s Blue squad fell into an early hole after allowing Red to tally the first nine points of the scrimmage. Blue finally got on the scoreboard, though, when Kiara Kudron tossed in a reverse layup after nearly four minutes of action.
Another Kudron layup midway through the first period pulled Blue within three, at 13-10. But the Red squad, which shot 50 percent, responded with a barrage of jumpers by Danielle Walter and Keani Albanez to push its cushion to 12.
“This is kind of our little gauge to see where we’re at,” Tinkle said. “Obviously, we are only going against each other, but sometimes that’s more competitive than anything else. We are going to get better no matter what and this is our first way to see where we’re at and where we need to go.”
Haiden Palmer did her best to rally the Blue group in the second half. The senior guard drilled back-to-back shots early in the period to cut the deficit to three, 29-26, but Blue would get no closer. Just like before, the Red squad responded, this time with consecutive 3-pointers by Walter and California transfer Lindsay Sherbert.
A 6-foot guard who can play multiple positions, Sherbert displayed her versatility throughout the scrimmage, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds. Teammate Sunny Greinacher led the Red group with 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
Palmer, who finished with 11 points, paced Blue while Shelby Cheslek added eight points. Cheslek also grabbed a scrimmage-high eight rebounds for Blue, which was relentless on the offensive boards.
“You spend so much time behind closed doors, it’s nice just to be in a different setting,” Graves said. “You could tell they were having some fun — they let loose a little bit. But it’s just a building block, on to the next step. You’ve got to continue getting better.”
The Bulldogs, coming off a 27-6 campaign that included a ninth consecutive West Coast Conference championship and a fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, return 12 letterwinners and four starters. They open the season Friday, Nov. 8, when they host the University of Idaho.
“I really think we have a chance to be terrific, that’s what excites me,” Graves said. “Things are going to have to go right and we’re going to have to compete. But we have depth, we have talent and I think, in time, this will be a really good basketball team.”