No. 23 Gonzaga (8-1) returned to Spokane early Wednesday morning, so a groggy coach Kelly Graves hadn’t turned his full attention to playing at No. 6 Stanford (7-1) on Saturday. The series between the top programs out West will air at 1 pm (PT) on Pac-12 Networks.
Graves mentioned this morning that two tapes were waiting for him in his home office to view. It’s the beginning of the week’s prep for the Zags’ toughest nonconference game, yet. GU hasn’t defeated Stanford since the annual series began in 2010.
“One of these days we’re going to get them,” Graves quipped. “We’re not going to change too much with the way we play. We’re going to change defenses as often as we can. We’ve done a nice job of pressuring people.
“Obviously (Stanford All-American) Chiney Ogwumike is going attract attention. I haven’t watched enough to see what they’re doing to get her to spots where she’s kicking everyone’s butt. Their point guard, Amber Orrange, is going to be better than the two point guards we played this past week. But we’re really good at guarding in the backcourt. Jazmine Redmond is terrific and so is Hadien (Palmer), so we matchup pretty well there.”
The Zags’ final game prep was a pair of wins on the road against quality Big Ten programs Ohio State (59-58) and Wisconsin (70-55). GU saw big leads dwindle late but was able to secure the win. The Zags also received solid play from its bench. Redshirt sophomore F Shaniqua Nilles nailed a buzzer-beater against OSU on Sunday. GU’s bench outscored UW’s 18-7 on Tuesday, junior G Danielle Walter scoring a season-high 10 points in the win at Wisconsin — eight in the final six minutes.
“Both of those teams have a shot at playing in March,” Graves said. “We lost our composure a little bit in the second half (at OSU). But to make some plays down the stretch, that showed some great character from our team and that’s something to build on. (Tuesday), we played a good basketball game, especially in the second half. Those things help us out immensely for confidence reasons.”
The Ohio State game could be the most telling for Gonzaga. Unlike a loss at then-No. 11 Oklahoma in the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the Zags were able to make critical plays to win a close game where it once had a sizable lead. Add that Nilles only entered the game due to starting G Keani Albanez fouling out with 3:23 left and the win is even more impressive.
The Buckeyes, led by former Washington coach Kevin McGuff, are a deceptive team. OSU (6-5) is at the bottom of Big Ten conference standings but has lost to ranked opponents in then- No. 24 Georgia (53-49), No. 1 UConn (70-49) and No. 8 Maryland (67-55) before the GU matchup – stalling all of the elite teams’ offenses.
It was a defensive glitch in the final seven seconds that gave the Zags the win, however. A heady assist in transition by Palmer set up a sweet shot by Nilles. My favorite part of the play was a focused Nilles beginning to turn to run down court to play defense before realizing the buzzer had sounded.
“The reason I put her in is that I really trust her,” Graves said of the forced substitution. “She’s in a position where maybe she’s not the best this or best that, so that’s why we hadn’t played her in that game. But late in the game, I trust her. She’s smart, she doesn’t make mistakes and I thought at that point that’s what we needed — that type of player.
“Obviously I didn’t foresee what happened, but it doesn’t surprise me. She’s the kind of player that’s going to be in the right spot at the right time. And she was. She took off on that last play where a couple other of our players kind of hung back. She wanted it. She understood the situation.”
Here’s a clip of Nilles’ heroics:
REPLAY: There were a lot of entertaining games last week, many thanks to NCAA officials enforcing defensive rules in an effort to create more scoring. Storm coach Brian Agler’s daughter, Taylor, was part of freshman teammate Larryn Brooks’ 37-point outing to keep the Hoosiers (9-0) undefeated. Oregon freshman G Chrishae Rowe used a school-record 41-points to defeat Seattle U. Then-No. 21 Cal needed overtime to defeat unranked Pacific 68-66 at home.
The instant classic was No. 5 Kentucky needing four overtimes to defeat No. 9 Baylor 133-130 last week. The Bears (7-1) had seven players foul out of the game, including PG Odyssey Sims, who finished with 47 points. The Wildcats had three players foul out, using reserve G Jennifer O’Neill’s 43 points off the bench to get the win.
Here’s a recap:
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RANK ‘EM: Gonzaga moved up a notch in the AP poll. Three Pac-12 teams continue to be ranked. No. 11 Colorado (8-0) is one of 18 undefeated teams in the nation and is riding a 32-game winning streak over regular-season nonconference opponents. CU hosts Denver (1-7) on Thursday.
POW: Here’s a list of conference Player of the Weeks based on ties from programs in Washington (UW, WSU, Gonzaga, Seattle U and Eastern Washington).
Pac-12: Colorado sophomore F Arielle Roberson.
WCC: Gonzaga senior F Sunny Greinacher.
WAC: Idaho junior G Stacey Barr.
Big Sky: Sacramento State senior G Alle Moreno.
GOLDEN APPLE: A bushel could be handed out this week with Greinacher’s play in Ohio while former Zags PG Courtney Vandersloot (Uni Gyor in Hungary) and former Kentwood HS star Lindsey Moore (Carispezia V. La Spezia in Italy) are playing well overseas. But the recognition has to go to Shaniqua Nilles for epitomizing the truth that you have to be ready when your number is called and the bench is as valuable as the starters. Her buzzer-beater could be the proof GU has the depth to be competitive this season.
TIME CHANGE ALERT: Eastern Washington’s home matchup against Idaho (6-4) on Saturday was pushed back to 7pm PT. The game was previously scheduled for 2 pm, but was moved due to EWU football’s NCAA Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal matchup with Jacksonville State. The women’s team (1-5) collected its first win of the season over Cal State Northridge (3-7) last week.
NORTHWEST BALLER: High school girls basketball is getting started with the goal of state championship runs, which puts players like senior F Brittany McPhee one step closer to hitting the tough college scene. McPhee committed to Stanford but wants to win her first HS championship for Mount Rainier. The state’s other top recruit, Brewster HS senior wing Chandler Smith, committed to Nebraska in November.
WNBA DRAFT SET: The WNBA draft lottery was held Tuesday. Connecticut, led by former Storm coach Anne Donovan, won the No. 1 overall pick. Tulsa, again, will be the runner-up followed by San Antonio and New York. The Sun are reportedly not expecting the return of veteran PG Kara Lawson, which could sway its draft plans.
The Storm will select seventh overall in the opening round. There are some solid players that should be around at the slot but Seattle’s biggest add will be the expected return of Storm All-Stars Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring) from injury.