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As strong nonconference campaign nears end, Gonzaga women won’t look past struggling Texas Southern

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 13, 2019

Gonzaga guard Jessie Loera  calls a play in a game against Cal State Bakersfield on Nov. 10, 2019. at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Jessie Loera calls a play in a game against Cal State Bakersfield on Nov. 10, 2019. at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

With only three games left, the Gonzaga women are cruising along to one of the best nonconference seasons in program history.

The Zags are 8-1 and ranked 17th with tough games next week against Wyoming and No. 20 Missouri State, which could make it difficult to focus on Saturday’s home game against Texas Southern.

But as coach Lisa Fortier is fond of saying, “We don’t let our players look past anyone.”

Also, the Zags have had almost a week to prepare for the Tigers (3-6), who’ve lost lopsided contests to Power 5 schools Oregon (99-63), Iowa State (79-59) and Colorado (70-54).

Texas Southern played competitively at Utah (losing 71-62) and owns wins over Hawaii and Rice.

In the 63-56 victory against Rice on Sunday, the Tigers got big games from their two key players: senior forward Niya Mitchell and point guard Ciani Cryor, a graduate transfer from Rutgers.

Mitchell finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds despite fouling out. Cryor led Texas Southern with 20 points, nine assists and eight steals.

That’s right: nine assists, which is only slightly higher than Cryor’s season average of 7.4. The 5-foot-5 Cryor also averages 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Mitchell, the reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference offensive and defensive player of the year, plays far above her 5-foot-10 height, averaging a team-high 15.7 points and 9.6 boards.

The numbers drop off sharply for the rest of the Tigers, who return only five letterwinners.

Texas Southern ranks near the bottom of Division I in several key categories: 3-point shooting (24.6%), free-throw shooting (61.2%) and defense (opponents are shooting 43%).

The Tigers are best known for their former and current coach, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who ranks among the most outstanding players in women’s basketball history.

A four-time WNBA Finals MVP, two-time NCAA champ at USC, Naismith Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist (in 1988), Cooper-Dyke coached at Texas Southern in 2012-13, then four years at Southern Cal.

Now she’s back, hoping to improve on last year’s 15-15 season. Texas Southern figures to be a heavy underdog against a GU team that is coming off one of its best games of the season.

On Sunday at Washington State, the Zags dominated at both ends of the floor in a 76-53 win that wasn’t that close. GU led by as many as 29 late in the third quarter while shooting 50% from beyond the arc.

“We came out ready to go,” Fortier said. “For three quarters we played really great defense, and we ran really great offense. When you’re passing the ball, you have the inside threat and an outside threat, and you’re really tough to stop.”

The Zags are at Wyoming on Tuesday, then host Missouri State on Friday night. GU opens West Coast Conference play at home against Portland on Dec. 29.

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