“I thought it was one of our, if not our best, defensive performance of the season,” stated Kelly Graves, who won his 300th game as the Zag head coach. “I praised my assistant coaches; sometimes they don’t get the recognition that they deserve. My staff really did a terrific job of preparing our team. We were dialed in on everything that they ran.”
BYU entered the Zags West Coast Conference home opener with a 13-2 overall mark, 3-1 record in league and averaging 72.5 points and 42.4 rebounds per game. The Cougars were held to their lowest point total of the season – by 10 points – and their lowest rebounding total – by three rebounds. They also were outrebounded for just the fifth time this season and shot a season-low 30.6 percent (15-of-49) from the field.
Gonzaga improved its overall record to 13-3 on the year and its WCC record to 3-1 with the 26-point victory. It’s the fifth time this season the Bulldogs held an opponent below 45 points and its second-largest conference victory of the year.
Like Graves, junior Sunny Greinacher thought the Zags defensive effort was one of their best.
“I think we had a really good night against Portland [when we held them to 24 points], but BYU is very strong, so to hold them to just 42 points is a great defensive effort,” stated Greinacher.
Greinacher was the spark for Gonzaga all night. The forward scored a game-high 20 points – on 8-of-13 shooting and 4-of-5 accuracy from the charity stripe, and grabbed a team-high seven points, while blocking two shots and making two steals.
It was Greinacher who took over in the final four minutes of the first half and allowed Gonzaga go into the locker room with the 32-21 halftime advantage. The Essen, Germany native scored the Bulldogs final nine points, including an old-fashion 3-point play with 10 seconds left that gave the Bulldogs the 11-point advantage. Greinacher finished the first half with 13 points.
The Bulldogs played without Haiden Palmer – their leading scorer – for most of the first half. Palmer was hit with two fouls in the first two minutes of play and sat for the rest of the opening stanza.
Junior Keani Albanez and classmate Lindsay Sherbert picked up the scoring while Palmer was on the bench, each scoring seven points in the opening 20 minutes.
The Cougars themselves also had their leading scoring hit with two early fouls and she too had to sit for the final 17 minutes of the first half. Jennifer Hamson – who was averaging 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds heading into the contest – opened the game hitting one-of-two free throws but didn’t do much else before heading to the bench.
A 14-4 run to open the second half, including 11-straight to close out the run, broke open the game for Gonzaga at 50-29 with 11:08 remaining in the contest. Palmer was fantastic during the aggressive run, scoring two points, passing out two dazzling assists, making one steal and grabbing an offensive board.
Graves was proud of how his senior guard rebounded after a tough first half.
“I was really proud of Haiden tonight,” explained Graves. “She gets into foul trouble and has to sit out the whole first half, and she came back in and played within our system and within herself. She made some great plays and didn’t force anything, and to me, that shows some real maturity. I was really proud of her.”
Palmer finished the game with an all-around performance of six points, four assists, and two rebounds and a block and steal.
Gonzaga’s largest lead of the contest was 29 points, hit three different times, the final time coming on a free throw by senior Stephanie Golden. Her shot put the score at 66-37 with 2:32 to play.
For the night, Hamson was held to five points on just 2-of-5 shooting and two rebounds. The 6-7 center fouled out at the 8:48 mark of the second half. BYU was led by Lexi Eaton with 18 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Albanez and Sherbert were the other two Zags to break double-figures, both finishing with 13.
Senior guard Jazmine Redmon returned after missing two games with an ankle sprain. The point guard came off the bench and passed out four assists in 12 minutes of play.
Gonzaga now focuses its attention on the University of San Diego. The Bulldogs host the 24th ranked Toreros Saturday at 2 p.m.