The Gonzaga women are working on their transition game.
With Saturday’s game against BYU scrapped by COVID-19, the West Coast Conference changed its schedule on the fly and sent GU to play at Portland on Sunday.
Tipoff is at 4 p.m. at the Chiles Center for a game that was originally scheduled for Feb. 6. The move creates an open weekend for both teams and a chance to play makeup games.
The loss of home games against San Diego and BYU is the team’s first major COVID-related setback since November, when GU’s home opener was scrapped because of coronavirus at Oklahoma.
That wasn’t the Zags’ fault; likewise with the games against San Diego and BYU, both of which are dealing with the virus.
The Zags, however, need to deal with the repercussions.
“Par for the course,” head coach Lisa Fortier said Friday after getting word of the schedule change. “We were prepping for one team, with one scout. Now we have to switch gears and move on.”
“They’re two very different teams,” Fortier said.
Fortunately, the 20th-ranked Zags (12-2, 7-0) can hop a plane for the short hop to Portland to play a team they thumped by 32 points just two weeks ago.
“Our most complete game of the season,” Fortier called it after a 75-43 romp at the Kennel. GU dominated every phase, shooting 50% from the field and owning the boards 43-21.
GU has won its past six games by an average of 22 points and hasn’t had a close call since a three-point win at Loyola Marymount in the conference opener on Dec. 28.
That doesn’t guarantee anything on Sunday. Case in point: Last season, GU beat Saint Mary’s in the Kennel by 27; three weeks later the Gaels made 14 long-range shots and handed the Zags their only conference loss of the season.
GU appears to be improving in other phases of the game, especially its half-court offense.
In the past four games, the Zags have dished out 79 assists; not coincidentally, they shot 54% during that span.
“They’re getting a feeling for what the right shots are,” Fortier said. “As assists have risen, our understanding of what is a good shot and a bad shot has risen.”
It helps to have three seniors in Jill Townsend and the Wirth twins, Jenn and LeeAnne. But perhaps the biggest factor is the maturation of sophomore point guard Kayleigh Truong.
In conference games only, Truong is averaging not only 7.6 points but 4.3 assists.
Stepping into a bigger role when Katie Campbell was injured, Truong played alongside Jessie Loera before inheriting the starting point guard spot when Loera graduated.
According to Fortier, Kayleigh and her twin sister Kaylynnne have grown “much more confident” after making the transition to the college game as true freshman.
For Kayleigh, that also means becoming more of a leader even though she’s two years younger than the other starters.
“I think I’ve improved in being more vocal, but I’m still very quiet,” Kayleigh Truong said. “I’ll always appreciate how Jessie brought us under her wing, always telling me to stay calm.”
Meanwhile, Portland isn’t the same team that played the Zags close in two regular-season games last year before shocking them in the WCC Tournament semifinals.
Following the loss at GU, the Pilots edged San Francisco by two, then fell by 19 at Santa Clara to drop to 7-5 overall and 4-2 in the WCC.
The Pilots are led by a pair of Australians.
Sophomore forward Alex Fowler, the WCC Newcomer of the Year last season, is averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds. Both are team highs.
Guard Haylee Andrews, a junior, averages 13.2 points and 4.4 boards.