Gonzaga makes it look easy, beats Xavier 74-59
SEATTLE (AP)—Those No. 12 seeds pulling off upsets made their way to the women’s NCAA tournament. And it just so happens to be that little Jesuit school from Spokane.
Yep, those Bulldogs are barking again.
“We came in here knowing we were supposed to win and this was our game,” Gonzaga’s Vivian Frieson said.
Heather Bowman scored 14 of her 23 points in the second half, and 12th-seeded Gonzaga won its first NCAA tournament game in school history with a 74-59 upset of No. 5 seed Xavier in the first-round of the Oklahoma City Regional on Saturday night.
Courtney Vandersloot added 15 points and 11 assists as the West Coast Conference champion Bulldogs (27-6) stole some of the headlines from their better-known men’s team.
They did it impressively by stymieing every challenge Xavier made.
“It feels great, it does. It feels a lot better than it did to win the WCC. Every game here on out is going to feel even better,” Vandersloot said. “But to be honest, we came here and we weren’t looking just to play one, we were looking to compete.”
These Bulldogs deserve all the recognition they’ll receive for this benchmark victory. Showing the savvy of an experienced tournament team—not one making just their second appearance ever—Gonzaga imposed its pace on Xavier’s defense that was sixth best in the country this season allowing just 53 points per game.
The Zags reached that mark on Frieson’s basket with 9:50 left that pushed their lead to 53-43.
Gonzaga never trailed and allowed the Musketeers to pull even only three times in the first half. The Bulldogs pushed ahead by 12 early in the second half on the strength of a 14-4 run sparked by Vandersloot’s seven points and then answered every Xavier charge in the closing minutes.
Frieson added 17 points for the Bulldogs, who danced around at midcourt and acknowledged their large cheering section after the victory. But it wasn’t an overzealous celebration of shock. It was jubilation that everyone with the Bulldogs expected before the game tipped off.
“I cracked a couple of lame jokes, but actually our team was pretty loose today. I didn’t have to fire them up,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “They were really focused tonight. What you saw was right.”
Gonzaga didn’t have any answers for Xavier’s massive center Ta’Shia Phillips, who finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds. But the rest of Phillips’ supporting cast failed to contribute at key times and the Musketeers couldn’t slow Vandersloot constantly forcing the tempo.
Dee Dee Jernigan and Tudy Reed both scored 10 points for Xavier (25-7), but the Musketeers still haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since reaching the regional finals in 2001.
“Give Gonzaga credit. They played an excellent game,” Xavier coach Kevin McGruff said. “I’m disappointed for our players because I don’t think we played up to our capabilities and I’m really disappointed for our seniors because they’ve done so much for this program and this is a tough way to go out.”
Xavier started to build some momentum, cutting Gonzaga’s 12-point lead to 60-55 on April Phillips’ left-hander on the low block with 5:16 left. Jami Schaefer missed at the other end for the Zags and Ta’Shia Phillips hit a pair of free throws to pull Xavier within three for the first time since 31-28 early in the second half.
But Gonzaga withstood the charge. Janelle Bekkering hit a pair of free throws and Bowman followed Vandersloot’s miss to push the Zags lead back to 64-57 with 3:39 left. Frieson then blocked Jerri Taylor’s 3-point attempt and the loose ball went out of bounds to the Zags.
Frieson wasn’t done, adding a running one-hander with 2 minutes left to push the lead to nine and Bowman added the capper moments later.
Playing basically a home game just 300 miles from their campus in Spokane, the Zags made amends for their first tournament appearance in 2007 when, also as a No. 12 seed, the Bulldogs were routed by Middle Tennessee State 85-46.