The turning point Wednesday night at the Kennel came when Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier turned to her bench.
It happened just 3 minutes into the game – Fortier’s confidence was that high – and GU’s depth took it from there in a 76-52 nonconference women’s basketball romp over Montana in the season opener for both teams.
“It was no surprise at all,” Fortier said. “I think every coach has a level of uncertainty, not being exactly sure of what the rotation is going to look like, but they’ve been very consistent.”
The halftime stat sheet said it all: GU led 42-17 thanks to 27 bench points.
Montana had two.
Quality depth is nice to have, and GU has plenty this year. Fortier was already into her bench when the game began thanks to a finger injury that sidelined starting forward Jenn Wirth and pushed twin sister LeeAnne into the starting lineup.
Three minutes in, the Zags had missed four of their first five shots and trailed 5-2. But the starters did their bit too, as Laura Stockton hit a short jumper and Zykera Rice made an emphatic block that set the tone for a big defensive night.
Enter Katie Campbell, who’ll be counted on this season from 3-point range. Five seconds after entering the game, she delivered a 3-pointer that gave GU the lead for good.
By the end of the night, Campbell also had delivered her best game as a Zag, with 13 points and four steals. She also went 3 for 4 from long range, wrecking Montana’s zone along with any upset hopes.
“People get pretty excited when she catches the ball,” Fortier said of Campbell.
At the same time, sophomore Jill Townsend delivered a team-high 14 points and six rebounds in perhaps her best overall collegiate game.
“Katie’s been knocking down shots all year, and Townsie is playing very confident right now,” Fortier said.
Campbell found her groove in the middle of the first half. After Chandler Smith made a pair of jumpers, Campbell tossed in another 3 to make it 20-11.
Moments later, Jessie Loera found Louise Forsyth with a behind-the-back pass and Townsend drained her first 3-pointer to give GU a 31-15 lead.
Campbell capped the half with two more buckets, the last coming off a steal to give GU a 25-point lead at the break.
“Your teammates, you just need to know what they need,” Campbell said. “It could be a stop, a score, an assist or even a high-five. But those guys really boost my confidence.”
The lead grew to as many as 30 late in the third quarter. Montana never got closer than 22 in the fourth.
Montana was held to 35-percent shooting (21 for 60) and made just eight field goals in the first half. GU forced 21 turnovers, including 15 in the first half.
“Twenty-one, that’s a great number,” Fortier said. “And a lot of those were live-ball turnovers, which led to points.”
While Fortier had hoped for more consistency on the glass, the Zags still won the rebounding battle 42-34 while holding the Griz to nine offensive boards.
Rice had 11 points and a game-high nine boards. Stockton added 13 points and four assists while going 5 for 6 from the field.
Montana’s McKenzie Johnston had a game-high 17 points.
The game was the first of three straight against teams from the Big Sky Conference.
GU’s next contest is Sunday at Eastern Washington, which beat Simon Fraser 72-66 in an exhibition game on Sunday. The Zags are back home on Tuesday night against Idaho State.
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