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NCAAW Preview: No. 18 Gonzaga hopes to continue cruising through WCC slate

The No. 18 Gonzaga Bulldogs were a question mark through their first eight contests this season. Now Jenn Wirth and company are an exclamation mark as they enter a game against the Saint Mary’s Gaels.

Gonzaga v Portland
Jenn Wirth (jersey #3) had a team-high 15 points to go along with seven rebounds in Gonzaga’s latest contest against the Pacific Tigers.
Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

The No. 18 Gonzaga Bulldogs had a somewhat rocky start to the season.

While their 79-72 season-opening loss to the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 29 was nothing to be embarrassed about, the Bulldogs struggled to defeat the South Dakota Coyotes and lost to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in their next two games.

After that, Gonzaga won the rest of its nonconference games, though a couple of those wins (over the Montana Lady Griz and the Eastern Michigan Eagles) were by single digits.

The Bulldogs, who entered the season with aspirations of going undefeated in conference play and winning the WCC outright, then won their WCC opener against the Loyola Marymount Lions by just three points. The Lions are now 5-8 overall and 4-4 in the WCC.

Something changed for Gonzaga after the Loyola Marymount game, though. The 14-2 Bulldogs (9-0 WCC) have rattled off eight-straight wins by double-digits including some big blowouts over their conference foes. They have dominated the WCC the way they wanted to and were expected to, even defeating the reigning WCC tournament champs and current third place Portland Pilots by 32 and 18 on Jan. 9 and Jan. 24, respectively.

So the Bulldogs enter their 4 p.m. ET Saturday contest against the Saint Mary’s Gaels looking really good and hoping to reach double-digit wins without a loss in the WCC.

The Gaels (5-11, 3-7 WCC) have also improved as the season has gone along. They lost six-straight to begin conference play before winning three-straight from Jan. 21 to Jan. 26. Unfortunately for them, that winning streak was snapped in a one-point loss to the Pilots on Thursday. But still, they are looking like a much better team than they were at the beginning of the season.

That’s the good news for Saint Mary’s. The bad news is that it lost 69-37 to Gonzaga in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 2.

The Bulldogs’ Jill Townsend is the reigning WCC Player of the Year, but Jenn Wirth is the team’s best player right now with 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Townsend is averaging 12.8 points and 5.4 boards, while J. Wirth’s twin, LeeAnne Wirth, has been good for 9.1 and 5.9 so far.

The Gaels are led in scoring by Taycee Wedin (12.3) and get solid contributions from across their rotation. Finau Tonga is close to averaging a double-double with 10.6 points and 7.6 boards per game, while Emily Codding is close as well (9.3 and 7.3).

Game Information

No. 18 Gonzaga Bulldogs (14-2, 9-0 WCC) vs. Saint Mary’s Gaels (5-11, 3-7 WCC)

When: Saturday, Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: University Credit Union Pavilion in Moraga, CA

How to watch/listen: WCC’s website/Radio: 790 KJRB; 94.1 FM

Key to the matchup: 3-point shooting. The Bulldogs have advantages across the board, but one of the Gaels’ strengths is 3-point defense. They hold opponents to 31 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Gonzaga holds its opponents to 29.1 percent and also shoots slightly better from deep than Saint Mary’s (35.8 percent to 33.6 percent). However, Saint Mary’s is close enough in those two categories to swing the balance in its favor with a good performance. The Gaels also take 20.4 triples per game compared to 16.6 for the Bulldogs. So if they can get hot they will have a big advantage because they take more threes.

Reason to watch: The Bulldogs have a lot of talent to watch. See if they can remain unbeaten in the WCC.