A new-look Gonzaga University women’s basketball team, which features 10 underclassmen and five veterans, gritted out a season-opening 60-53 victory over UC Riverside Friday night at SRC Arena in Riverside, Calif. The Bulldogs had to overcome a nine-point deficit at halftime and a seven-point disadvantage with seven minutes to play in the contest to win their second-straight season opening game.
Gonzaga was in unfamiliar territory at the half, being down to a non-conference opponent for only the eighth time over the past four years. It also was the first time it was held under double-digits in a half since Dec. 7, 2008 when it scored 16 points in a 59-47 loss at UC Santa Barbara.
It was poor shooting and sloppy handling of the ball that led to the Bulldogs 28-19 halftime deficit. Gonzaga hit 6-of-25 from the field (24.0 percent) in the opening 20 minutes, including just 1-of-7 on 3-pointers (14.3 percent). The Bulldogs also turned it over 11 times, which resulted in eight of the Highlanders 28 points.
Twelve players saw action in the first half for the Bulldogs, with seven scoring. Junior Jazmine Redmon and freshman Elle Tinkle led the way combining for eight of the Zags 19 points.
Gonzaga’s offense started to click in the second half as did its defense. The Bulldogs hit a blistering 52.0 percent from the field (13-of-25), including 42.9 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (3-of-7) and forced 12 Riverside turnovers, resulting in 12 points.
It was the play of sophomore Keani Albanez that sparked the Zag comeback. The Santa Barbara native scored 15 of her career-high 17 points in the final half. She drained the 3-pointer that tied the game at 39-39 with 10:50 to play; the first tie since the 11:00 mark of the opening half, and had six points in a 8-0 run, including another 3-pointer. Her third 3-pointer of the game gave the Bulldogs their first lead – a slight 49-47 edge at 5:34 - since the 11:44 mark of the first 20 minutes.
Gonzaga then won the game down the stretch by sinking its free throws and holding Riverside to one field goal in the final five minutes and forcing two turnovers.
After TreShont Nottingham hit two free throws to tie the game at 49-49 with 5:05 remaining, the Bulldogs would hit one field goal, a layup with sophomore Sunny Greinacher, and 9-of-10 free throws. Junior Haiden Palmer sank 5-of-6, while Albanez hit two and senior Taelor Karr drained two.
Along with Albanez, who also had three rebounds, one assist and one steal, Palmer also scored in double-figures, finishing with 14. She added a game-high six steals, with three rebounds, one assist and one block.
Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves was pleased with his teams effort, despite the rough start to the game.
"It was a hard fought win tonight," stated Graves. "We played as hard as any team I have ever coached and made plays down the stretch."
Riverside was led by Nottingham with 20 points.
Gonzaga closes out its two-game roadtrip at USC Sunday. The game is set for 2 p.m.