LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Junior Michelle Holmes finished with 15 points and eight rebounds to lead the American University women's basketball team to a 59-56 victory over Gonzaga on Friday at the South Point Thanksgiving Classic.
The Eagles (1-3) picked up their first win of the season, while handing the Zags, who received votes in both national polls this week, their first loss of the year.
In the first half, neither team shot particularly well, but Gonzaga (3-1) gained a significant advantage at the foul line, connecting on 13-of-18 free throws. In contrast, the Eagles were just 1-of-4 from the charity stripe. The Zags used that advantage to stake a 25-19 lead at the intermission.
After the break, American used its defensive pressure to begin its comeback. A three-point play by senior Shaquilla Curtis with 14:25 on the clock gave AU a 30-29 lead, its first of the game, sparking a series of runs by both teams. After the Eagles went up 36-33, the Zags responded with a 9-0 spurt to regain the lead. American followed with a run of its own, scoring 10 straight points, capped off by a trey from senior Arron Zimmerman.
Again, Gonzaga regained the advantage, taking a 49-48 lead with just over four minutes to play. However, it proved to be the Zags' last lead of the contest. Senior captain Jen Dumiak, who dished out five of her game-high six assists in the second half, tied the game with a free throw on the Eagles' next possession. She then added two more foul shots to put AU ahead. Another three-pointer from Zimmerman gave American a 54-49 edge with 1:46 remaining.
The Eagles were able to increase the margin to nine points with less than 30 seconds to play, but the Zags were not finished. Gonzaga scored five points in a span of 20 seconds, including a three-point field goal by Sunny Greinacher, to cut AU's lead to 58-56. However, Holmes converted on the second of two free throws with 7.2 seconds on the clock to push American's advantage to three points. With a strong defensive stand in the waning moments of regulation, the Eagles held on for the win.
In addition to Holmes' 15 points, Curtis pitched in 10 points and five assists, while Zimmerman and junior Ari Booth each recorded nine points.
For the game, American shot 40.7 percent from the field while holding the Zags to 34.6 percent shooting. Gonzaga won the battle of the boards, finishing with a 44-30 rebounding margin, but committed 16 turnovers with just six assists. The Zags, who entered the game averaging 84.0 points per game and a .470 field goal percentage, also made only two three-pointers, well below their season average of 7.3 per contest.
"Our biggest goal was to hold Gonzaga below their averages, and we were able to do that today," said American head coach Megan Gebbia. "We needed to keep them off the free throw line and eliminate their three-point shooting. Overall, we did a good job of that.
"Ultimately, we executed our game plan. We've had three days to prepare for Gonzaga, and we were able to focus on their tendencies and do the little things we needed to win the game. I'm really proud of the way our team played today."
The Eagles wrap up competition at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout tomorrow, when they take on Oregon at 6 p.m. (PT).