Gonzaga (27-5) led by as many as 19 points in the first half, when the Bulldogs held the Scarlet Knights (22-10) to 29 percent shooting.

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SPOKANE — Finesse, not toughness, has been the trademark of the Gonzaga women’s basketball team.

Until Saturday.

The 11th-seeded Bulldogs manhandled No. 6 seed Rutgers, especially in the first 10 minutes, en route to an 86-73 victory in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament at GU’s McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I don’t know if we out-toughed them, but we stood up to them,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “They’re tough. We knew we had to play that way. … We did right from the start. That was important. We set the tone defensively.”

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Gonzaga (27-5) led by as many as 19 points in the first half, when the Bulldogs held the Scarlet Knights (22-10) to 29 percent shooting.

When Rutgers made a run, getting within 10 with plenty of time left, the Bulldogs won the game by hitting 14 of 16 free throws in the final three minutes.

“The first 10 minutes we came out and got off to a good start, pushing the ball, making our shots,” Gonzaga senior Kayla Standish said. “Our defensive end should be noted because we followed the game plan. We weren’t allowing them to get in the paint as much as they would like.”

Experience probably played a bigger role for the Bulldogs, who are in the tournament for the fourth straight season and all four times they won their opening game, three times as the lower seed.

“I thought our defense would be more disruptive,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “Once they got in the half court, they have nice size and nice skills and were able to do what they wanted to do.”

Gonzaga went on a 14-0 run that started five minutes in and produced a 20-4 lead at the 9:45 mark. In truth, the 29 percent first-half shooting was respectable for the Scarlet Knights considering they didn’t get their second field goal until just after the midway point.

Gonzaga had 38 points and a 17-point lead at halftime against a team that was allowing just 54 points a game. The Bulldogs hit that number with 13:38 to play and only Miami, in a 92-81 win in double overtime back in December, scored more against Rutgers this season.

“Our plan was to score and get into our press,” Rutgers’ April Sykes said. “It’s hard to get into your press when you’re not making shots.”

Rutgers shot 60 percent in the first 10 minutes of the second half but couldn’t get closer than 11 because Gonzaga nailed three long three-pointers, twice barely beating the shot clock.

Standish led the Bulldogs with 23 points. Haiden Palmer had a big game with 21 points, five steals and four assists. Kelly Bowen had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds — the Zags won the battle of the boards 44-36 — and Taelor Karr had 14 points.

Two free throws from Monique Oliver at 3:35 cut the lead to 69-56 but Gonzaga, which went more than four minutes without a field goal, made a living at the line.

Some NBA-depth three-pointers, one from Sykes and three from Erica Wheeler, who finished with 28 points, gave Rutgers hope. It was a Wheeler three (she made 6 of 14) that was the last flicker, making it 75-65 with 1:54 left.

Gonzaga plays Miami on Monday for a berth in the Sweet 16.

“Tonight we really focused on being tough early,” Graves said. “Then that toughness showed through the game. We built the lead, and then they would come back. Then we would answer the call and build it back up.

“Every time they made a run, we had the answer. You do that when you’re tough. … We were plus-eight on the rebounds, that’s always a telltale sign.”