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Gonzaga uses strong second half to pull away from Tennessee Martin 78-55

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 14, 2019

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kaylynne Truong (14) is congratulated by forward Jenn Wirth, left, as her sister guard Kayleigh Truong (11) smiles against the UT Martin Skyhawks during the second half Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kaylynne Truong (14) is congratulated by forward Jenn Wirth, left, as her sister guard Kayleigh Truong (11) smiles against the UT Martin Skyhawks during the second half Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Finally, the Gonzaga women can look ahead to Stanford.

The Zags will do so, however, with eyes wide open for improvement after their 78-55 nonconference win Thursday night over Tennessee Martin.

The outcome was hardly in doubt – GU led by 20 or more for most of the second half – but the Zags had to overcome some deficits that won’t be forgiven Sunday night against the No. 3 team in the nation.

GU (2-0) gave up too many easy shots, lacked focus in the second quarter and allowed the smaller Skyhawks too many trips to the free-throw line.

UT Martin was 20 for 28 at the line.

“We all know how good Stanford is,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said. “You can’t foul and put them on the line the whole time and you can’t have mental lapses, and you can’t have low energy against the better teams.”

Those problems are fixable, though. On Thursday, most of them were dealt with at halftime. After being outscored 23-20 in the second quarter, GU doubled up the Skyhawks 22-11 in the third.

“I was very happy with the way they responded in the second half,” Fortier said after the program’s 200th win in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

After allowing the Skyhawks (0-3) to hang around, GU extended a 39-31 halftime lead to 61-42 after three quarters.

It did that mostly by pounding the ball inside. As she was in the opener against Cal State Bakersfield, Jenn Wirth was the focus of the offense and finished with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field.

“They didn’t have any answer for her,” Fortier said. “They tried to double-team her, they tried to front, but she was posted up strong. She’s got such a great touch, and when she can work for good position she’s hard to stop.”

The Zags also got a strong inside game from wing Jill Townsend, who shot 6 for 9 and finished with 15 points.

That opened up the outside game, and the Zags took advantage as Katie Campbell and Kaylynne Truong combined to go 4 for 6 from beyond the arc.

GU wasn’t sure what to expect.

The Skyhawks are a veteran squad that returns four starters from a team that went 23-9 overall and 13-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference and fell one game short of an NCAA Tournament berth.

UT Martin, however, was coming off two road losses, by six at Saint Louis and by 36 at No. 8 Mississippi State on Monday.

Fortier also worried about fan turnout, but the Kennel was at least three-quarters full at tipoff despite the 7:30 p.m. start time stemming from a scheduling conflict with a GU volleyball match.

Because of fire codes the two events couldn’t be held concurrently.

That didn’t matter.

In contrast to Sunday’s opener against Cal State Bakersfield, the Zags were out of the gates quickly after missing their first two shots and trailing 2-0.

GU evened the score on a nice feed from LeeAnne Wirth to her sister, Jenn. The Zags led for good, as it turned out, on a wide-open 3-pointer from Campbell.

Two minutes later, the Zags were up 11-2 and seemingly cruising. Yet the advantage was down to 13-8 before Jessie Loera got a steal and a layup and Truong made two free throws to restore the nine-point lead.

GU led 19-8 after forcing four turnovers in the last 2 minutes of the first quarter, but the Skyhawks stuck around.

Shooting 54% for the half, UT Martin stayed within single digits for most of the second quarter.

Campbell restored the double-digit lead (35-24) with a steal and a layin, but the Skyhawks remained in striking distance at the half.

The second half couldn’t have begun better for the Zags. LeeAnne Wirth muscled in for a layin, and seconds later Loera’s nice bounce pass found Jenn Wirth for a reverse layin that made it 43-31.

The Zags pulled away from there, leading by at least 20 for most of the second half.

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