Returning the favor: Gonzaga women storm student section in show of support after advancing to Sweet 16

Mar. 26—It wasn't planned, but it was appropriate.

Moments after the Gonzaga women's basketball team walked through the handshake line following the Zags' 77-66 win over Utah on Monday, the team headed up the stairs leading to the student section near its bench.

It was the players' way of thanking the students specifically and the rest of the sellout crowd at McCarthey Athletic Center in general for their inspirational part in the win that is sending Gonzaga to a Sweet 16 date in Portland on Friday.

It's the first trip to the Sweet 16 since Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier's first season in 2014-15 — and the fifth in school history.

The Zags improved to a school-record 32-3 and extended their home winning streak to 36 — in a season of records broken and set.

Graduate guard Kayleigh Truong said she could feel the crowd throughout the game.

"Oh, 100%," Truong said. "They were locked in as much as we were. That gives us a lot of the energy, especially when we're trying to look for some momentum. You hear them nonstop."

The Zags never let Utah out of their sights, but they did trail in the early going. A 3-pointer gave the Utes a 20-14 lead late in the first quarter, but Kaylynne Truong stemmed the momentum when she answered with a 3-pointer from 25 feet, pulling Gonzaga to within 20-17.

Utah led again by six points, 23-17, at the end the first 10 minutes


In the second quarter, the Truongs, Eliza Hollingsworth and Brynna Maxwell had 3-pointers that fueled a 20-3 surge. The run was capped when Yvonne Ejim hit a driving basket for a 40-29 lead with 1:15 to go before halftime.

It appeared Utah had cut the lead to single digits seconds before the quarter ended, but the referees reviewed the play and determined the shot was taken after the shot clock horn expired, giving Gonzaga a 41-31 halftime lead. Kayleigh Truong had 12 of her team-high 21 points in the first half.

The Zags, playing like they have most of the season, used a 14-3 surge to open the second half, a run that included three 3-pointers, to build their biggest lead, 55-34, with 6:42 to go in the quarter.

Utah, which played in the competitive Pac-12 Conference, didn't go away. The Utes pecked away, cutting the deficit to 67-61 with 4:48 remaining in the game.

But the Zags' defense and rebounding took over thereafter. They were again lifted by the crowd.So back to the student section.

"I was kind of like, 'Let's go'," Ejim said of entering the crowd. "The student section brought it today. Kudos to them. ... Just their energy and all the other Zags fans we have — they bring so much energy and encouragement to our game.

"You got to give them credit for what they do. It's not easy going up there and standing the whole game and cheering people on and losing your voices and things."

Kayleigh Truong also expressed her appreciation.

"It's very special," she said. "We said our goodbye speeches during Senior Night, but I'm just so grateful that we got another chance to play two more games at this home court. There is nothing like it here. Like just a lot of gratitude ... to everyone that just showed up for us."

Both players pointed out specific moments during the game that they sensed the crowd's influence.

"I think we were on a run or something like that and there was a timeout taken and I was coming (to the huddle) and I literally got a head rush because the crowd was so loud," Ejim said. "The crowd was intense in that moment."

"You could hear the crowd the whole game," Kayleigh Truong said. "One (moment) was a fastbreak and Vonny (Ejim) passed it to Eliza and Eliza got the and-one. I couldn't hear anything. I couldn't hear myself talk to them in the huddle (before the free throw)."

Ejim honoredFor a second straight season, Ejim has been named a region finalist for the WBCA NCAA Division I Coaches' All-America team, the organization announced Tuesday. The All-America team will be announced later this month.

Ejim was recently named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year and WCC Defensive Player of the Year.

She is averaging 19.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. She has 15 double-doubles this season and has scored in double figures 37 straight games, dating to last season. She's shooting 62.8% from the field.