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Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 06:07 PM

Veteran guards Taelor Karr, Haiden Palmer lead young Gonzaga team

By Jayda Evans
Seattle Times staff reporter

Gonzaga's Kiara Kudron was telling teammate Taelor Karr that the two have the same birthday, Nov. 14. The thing is, Kudron will be 18, and Karr, a senior guard, will turn 22.

That's how it is with the Gonzaga women's basketball team this season. The Bulldogs have 10 underclassmen, including six freshmen. All of their experience is in the backcourt.

"I'm going to definitely test the theory that you've got to have good guards to be successful," Zags coach Kelly Graves said. "That's where our strength lies. We have a lot of depth there, and not just the three players who played a lot for us (last season), but the fourth, fifth and sixth guards are all pretty good."

Leading the troupe is Karr, a transfer from Kansas State in her second year with Gonzaga who is now the focal point of the team. In addition to running the up-tempo offense, Karr should shoot more, Graves says.

Karr, shy off the court, isn't hesitant to accept the scoring role in games. She scored 7.5 points per game last season for a team that averaged 75.1, 10th-best in the nation.

"It's kind of been a whirlwind so far," Karr said of leading her inexperienced teammates. "At the beginning we looked really, really rough, which was expected," Karr said. "But we've got great athletes. The sophomore class didn't get a chance to prove themselves and play a lot of minutes last year, but they're all very long and athletic. The same with this freshman class — I know if they get minutes, they'll really be able to push people around and show what they can do."

Because of Karr's ability to continue the Zags' running style, Graves says the team is one of the most talented he's had at Gonzaga. That's including those that went to the Elite Eight with WNBA All-Star Courtney Vandersloot and the Sweet 16 with WNBA draft pick Katelan Redmon last season.

True, the team is guard-oriented. But Graves figures the post players could be gems later in the season.

An unknown is Shelby Cheslek, a 6-foot-5 post player who redshirted her freshman year. Sophomore Sunny Greinacher (6 feet 3) and junior Stephanie Golden (6 feet 3) also give the Zags much-needed height, although not much size with their slender physiques.

Greinacher and Golden averaged less than 11 minutes each off the bench last season.

Gonzaga advanced to the Sweet 16 (where it lost against No. 12 Kentucky) on the play of undersized post player Kayla Standish (16.4 points per game) and Redmon (13.4).

The apparent drop in talent at Gonzaga prompted coaches to pick BYU as the West Coast Conference favorite by one point in preseason polls. It's a first for the Zags in five years to be picked anywhere but first, yet the Bulldogs have won at least a share of the past eight regular-season conference titles.

"I don't really care," guard Haiden Palmer said of preseason talk. The junior guard averaged 12.4 points on 40 percent shooting last season. "It's always been like that with Gonzaga. We're not ranked as high as (we finish). ... The theme the last three years is we just go in and surprise people. It's different because we don't really surprise ourselves."

Except for when it comes to realizing everyone's age.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com.


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