Zags Focus on Basketball Basics, Intensity
By Eli Francovich
Class of 2015
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Gonzaga Coach Lisa Fortier said the No. 11-seed Zags’ game against Oregon State on Sunday will be just like any other game, except this is the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and it’s a home game for the No. 3-seed Beavers who feature one of the best defenses in the nation.
“At this point it really doesn’t matter … every game is zero-zero at the start,” Fortier said Saturday as the Zags met the media. “There are a lot of opportunities for both teams; it comes down to whoever wants it the most.”
The 25-7 Zags will take on the 27-4 Beavers at Gill Coliseum. OSU went to the tournament last year for the first time since 1996. Gonzaga has participated in March Madness eight out of the last nine years.
The Beavers, whom Gonzaga last played in 2004, are ranked sixth in the nation in field goal defense – holding opponents to a shooting average of 34.5 percent from the field. OSU also grabs an average of nine more rebounds than its opponents.
Much of their defensive dominance starts with 6-foot-6-inch Ruth Hamblin who has blocked 188 shots this year and averages 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Junior guard Jamie Weisner chips in an average of 13.7 points per game and sophomore Sydney Wiese averages 11.9.
The Zags also have three players averaging double-digits in scoring: Sunny Greinacher, 13.7 points; Keani Albanez, 12.8 points; and Elle Tinkle, 11.8. Four other Zags average at least 6 points a game.
The skill, size and athleticism of OSU won’t change Gonzaga’s overall game plan, Fortier said, adding the Zags will play aggressive team defense and contest all shots. Like Fortier, Shaniqua Nilles believes beating OSU will come down to the fundamentals.
“They (OSU) are playing on their home floor, so they are going to be aggressive, hyped-up and have a home-crowd advantage,” Nilles said. “We have to match their intensity and make sure we check out/box out on every possession. Team defense and toughness is the key to staying in the game and playing in the NCAA Tournament as long as you can.”
That energy, and defense, was evident in the Zags’ 82-69 opening-round victory Friday over George Washington. Gonzaga started the game on a 7-0 run, and hounded the Colonials throughout the game with strong defensive pressure. Fortier isn’t concerned with matching that intensity against OSU.
“I think that if you don’t get excited to play in the NCAA Tournament then you basically don’t have a pulse,” Fortier said. “This is what we practice for and play for all yearlong.”
OSU is wary of Gonzaga’s offensive potential, specifically Keani Albanez and the team’s passing ability.
“Keani Albanez is such an explosive scorer; we have to do a good job limiting her,” said OSU Coach Scott Rueck. “When their point guards are allowed to create that makes them better.”
While the challenge is still, the Zags like their chances.
“We are excited to be here,” Fortier said. “We are proud of how we played yesterday, but we know we have a long road ahead of us today in practice and we have to come out with the same kind of intensity tomorrow.”