POKANE, Wash. – A well balanced offensive attack and a strong shooting performance helped the No. 25 Gonzaga University women’s basketball team run away with a 91-54 victory over visiting University of Tennessee-Martin in the second round of the Preseason WNIT Sunday afternoon at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
A total of 10 players scored for the Bulldogs (2-0), including four in double-figures, two of which came off the bench to contribute their big points. Gonzaga also rebounded from a sub-par shooting night against the University of Idaho Friday - where it hit just 32.8 percent from the field – and sank an impressive 52.2 percent (36-of-69) from the floor in its 37-point victory.
The Zags were led once again by senior guard Haiden Palmer with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-3 from long range. She also grabbed five boards, dished out three assists and made three steals.
“It was a quiet 18,” stated Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves of Palmer’s second-straight 18-point performance. “The defense – she always plays hard there – and timely shots. It was just a great game; she has had an awesome year for us so far. She is a good leader; kids love her and follow her.”
Also breaking double-figures was junior guard Keani Albanez with 14 on 5-of-9 shooting, including a career high 4-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc. The sharpshooter also grabbed a game and career-high eight boards.
“She didn’t take any bad shots today and she is just playing with a lot of confidence,” said Graves of Albanez who is averaging 13.5 points per game thus far this season.
Rounding out the top scoring was junior Sunny Greinacher with 14 and senior Stephanie Golden with 10 – all coming in the first half.
Not only was Gonzaga’s offensive on point Sunday, its defense was pretty impressive. The Zags held the Skyhawks – who hit 48.3 percent in their opening round victory over Georgia State University – to just 26.7 percent (20-of-75) from the field, including a tough 12.9 percent (4-of-31) from beyond the arc.
“I thought we defended really well,” Graves said of his team. “What we tried to do was contest as best we could the 3-pointers. It was just a tough shooting night for them. They played like they may have had some tired legs but that is a good basketball team that didn’t maybe play that great today. They are going to win a lot of games.”
UT Martin (1-1) had five players crack double-figures in Friday’s win but only had two Sunday. Tiara Caldwell notched a team-high 13 points, while Heather Butler finished with 12.
The Skyhawks leading scorer Jasmine Newsome – who averaged 22.6 a season ago and scored 24 Friday – was held to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting.
Gonzaga led 14-8 at 13:36 remaining in the first before stringing together an 18-6 run over the next seven minutes to break the game open with a 17-point advantage at 32-15. Six different Bulldogs scored in the run, including Albanez who capped off the run with a 3-pointer at the 6:40 mark.
The Zags pushed their lead to 24 at halftime after Palmer drained a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to put the score at 45-21.
The Bulldogs continued to dominate and had their lead above 30 points before five minutes had disappeared in the second period.
Gonzaga’s largest lead of the contest was 43 points - hit two different times - the last coming on a layup by sophomore Shelby Cheslek at 4:34 which put the score at 87-44.
All 13 players saw action for the Zags, which pleased Graves.
“I like the fact that we could play a lot of players a lot of minutes,” said Graves. “I think that’s critical because it’s a long season. With some of our seniors, they are going to have to log a lot of minutes this year so any chance I can take them out and give others extended playing we will because we need them in March.”
GU will now play No. 11 University of Oklahoma in the Semifinals of the Preseason WNIT. The game is scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. PT in Norman, Okla.
“This is what we wanted,” explained Graves. “This is why we signed up for the tournament. We were fortunate enough to get a couple of home games and this is what we play for. We like to play those T-shirt team; those great programs. That’s what makes us better, so that when March comes we are used to playing those kinds of teams.”