For the first time since 2016, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are back in the top 25 following their 79-73 home win over then-No. 8 Stanford. The monumental home victory added to an 8-1 record that marks the Zags’ hottest start to a season in head coach Lisa Fortier’s five years at the reins, and their best start since the 2013-14 season.
Today, the Zags host in-state rival Washington State, their second Pac-12 opponent of the season and another mainstay in their schedule year after year. This will be the teams’ 28th meeting all-time, with the Cougars leading the overall series 18-9. With a win, Gonzaga will have taken three in a row from Washington State for just the second time — although the previous four-game streak was also the only other time that the Zags had won consecutive games against the Cougars prior to their current two-game streak.
To date, the Bulldogs’ one blemish on the season is a respectable 81-65 loss to then-No. 1 Notre Dame in the Vancouver Showcase back on Nov. 22, but it’s been all Zags since then. Senior forward Zykera Rice continues to lead Gonzaga with 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, with senior guard Chandler Smith right behind her at an even 10 points per game, which includes 20 in the Stanford victory.
The Zags are getting major contributions from their bench this season, with Katie Campbell (who got her first start of the season in the Stanford game for an injured Jessie Loera) and Jill Townsend third and fourth in scoring on the season, respectively.
Washington State, picked to finish 11th in the ultra-competitive Pac-12, lost their first two games of the season, one of which was to another West Coast Conference team, Saint Mary’s. However, the Cougars have won their last three games, the second of which was a 30-point rout of the WCC’s San Francisco. Today’s game will be just their second away game of the season, the other of which was a loss to CSUN in the Warner Center Marriott Thanksgiving Basketball Classic, played on CSUN’s campus.
While the Bulldogs have the edge going into this meeting, they’ll do well to rectify some of their mistakes against the Cougars from last season, including committing 26 turnovers (the most ever in the Fortier era) and allowing them to grab 28 offensive rebounds.
The Zags wouldn’t be the first WCC team to sweep their Pac-12 opponents this season. Loyola Marymount opened 2018-19 with wins over UCLA and Arizona, jumping out to a quick 2-0 start. While these wins didn’t earn the Lions any votes in the polls — even Gonzaga didn’t receive a single vote in the AP Poll until they entered it this week — UCLA went from receiving votes in the preseason poll to being knocked out of the Week 2 poll entirely following that loss to the Lions. LMU has since gone 4-2 with losses to Northern Arizona and Denver.
Zags in action
No. 24 Gonzaga Bulldogs (8-1) vs. Washington State Cougars (4-4)
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, WA
Notes: The Cougars went heavy from three in last year’s meeting, attempting 22 shots from beyond the arc but only sinking three of them. This season, Washington State has seemingly already improved in this area, averaging 35.8 percent from three to Gonzaga’s 33.8 percent.
But where these teams really separate is from the free throw line: Gonzaga’s 77.5 percent is good for 20th in the nation, while Washington State is shooting just 67.5 percent from the line. If this game comes down to late foul shooting, the Zags will have the clear advantage, just as they did as they shut down Stanford in the final seconds.
Elsewhere in the WCC:
- For her efforts in Gonzaga’s wins against Colorado State and Stanford, Chandler Smith was named WCC Player of the Week. Smith’s season-high 20 points against the Cardinal came on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor and 8-of-9 from the free throw line.
- Pacific is currently in second place in the WCC after just over a month of non-conference play. The Tigers are 6-1 (the loss coming to then-No. 23 California) and are on a five-game winning streak, their most recent victory coming yesterday against UC Santa Barbara. Valerie Higgins and Brooklyn McDavid scored 19 points apiece in the win while Ameela Li added 11, which continued Higgins’ and Li’s streak of scoring in double figures in every game this season.
- Three other WCC teams also have six wins so far: Brigham Young, Loyola Marymount and Portland. While LMU and Portland each won their most recent game following a loss (beating CSUN and Warner Pacific, respectively), BYU has lost two of its last three, falling to Southern Utah and Utah while beating Utah Valley in between.
- As a whole, the WCC is off to a positive start. Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s and San Diego each have five wins, while San Francisco is the only team below .500 in the conference, now sitting at 3-5.
- One season after finishing 11th in the nation in per-game attendance, Gonzaga is currently ranked second in the country in attendance capacity, filling 89.92 percent of seats per game.