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Back home for March Madness, No. 4 seed Gonzaga rolls past No. 13 seed UC Irvine 75-56

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Yvonne Ejim had 25 points and 14 rebounds and No. 4 seed Gonzaga overcame a slow start to roll past UC Irvine 75-56 in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

The Bulldogs (31-3) rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit and led by as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter. Kayleigh Truong added 16 points and the Zags shot 62% and scored 45 points in the second half.

Gonzaga will face No. 5 seed Utah or No. 12 seed South Dakota State in the second round on Monday.

“I like that our team struggled and we found a way to overcome a little bit of struggle in the first quarter,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “We weren’t at our best in that quarter, but when you can be not at your best and go and put consecutively 20 points each quarter (after that), we’re just tough.”

The Bulldogs started 0-for-10 from the 3-point line and managed just 10 points in the first quarter, their lowest output in any quarter this season.

Brynna Maxwell, the Zags’ top outside shooter, shook off a slow start and sank two 3s and a long jumper to fuel a 21-2 run to end the first half and start the third quarter.

Kayleigh Truong and twin sister Kaylynne each had five assists for the Zags, who are in their seventh straight NCAA Tournament and are one win away from their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2015.

It was the first time Gonzaga hosted NCAA Tournament games on its home floor since 2013.

“Our Zags fans bring a lot of energy, but today especially with the student section just being filled,” Ejim said of the sellout crowd of 6,000. “I think especially when we went on our runs, we felt the energy, especially when we come back on defense. Everyone is cheering, everyone is clapping, not only around us but on our team, too, and I think that really fed into the intensity that we kept up throughout the game.”

Nevaeh Parkinson scored 18 points and Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba added 15 for UC Irvine.

The Anteaters (23-9) were in their first NCAA Tournament since 1995 and raced out to a 17-6 lead. Parkinson hit back-to-back buckets during the stretch, and UC Irvine’s physical defense flustered the Zags early.

The Bulldogs mounted a 10-0 run to slow the Anteaters’ early momentum and took their first lead midway through the second quarter.

UC Irvine coach Tamara Inoue was proud of her team’s start and how the Anteaters hung with Gonzaga more than the last time they played here – a 102-38 loss in 2016, her first season on the job.

“I think we’re on a little bit of an improvement from that to this game today,” Inoue said.

UP NEXT

The Zags will get either another test from a Pac-12 school in the Utes or face the Jackrabbits for the second time this season. Gonzaga beat SDSU by 25 in December.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness