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Tomorrow’s GU news today

Before sitting down to a relaxing dinner, I’ll post the unedited versions of the advance and notebook for the Gonzaga women’s matchup with No. 15 Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament that will appear in Monday’s.


SEATTLE Can the Gonzaga women’s basketball team do outside what it did inside?

How well the Bulldogs answer that question tonight at Hec Edmondson Pavilion could determine if they can reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

After dispatching No. 20 Xavier and 6-foot-6 center Ta’Shia Phillips 74-59 Saturday night for their first ever tournament win, the Bulldogs (27-6) turn their attention to No. 15 Pittsburgh (24-7) and three-time All-Big East guard Shavonte Zellous in the second round tonight at 6:30.

Pitt’s all-time leading scorer who is seventh in the nation at 22.5 points a game, the 5-11 senior had 31 points as the fourth-seeded Panthers routed Montana 64-35 on Saturday.

“This is what happens in a tournament like this,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “We see one style one night and then another the next. It’s not frightening (but) she’s just a tremendous player.”

It could be said the 12th-seeded Zags really didn’t stop Phillips, who had 26 points and 18 rebounds. But with their constantly changing defense they seemed to discombobulate the Musketeers, who shot 23.6 percent (13-58) if you take away Phillips 11 of 18.

Zellous was 13 of 27 against Montana and you may remember her 22-point outing in a 72-53 Sweet 16 loss to Stanford in the Spokane Regional a year ago. The Bulldogs were impressed but now awed.

“I feel like every team we play, there’s going to be that player that puts up big numbers,” Gonzaga sophomore point guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “We watched a little bit of her and she was putting on a clinic out there. We have players that can step up and defend and have lock-down defense.”

This could be a test for the injured knee of 2008 West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year Jami Schaefer, who missed the first half of league play, or to see how well Janelle Bekkering responds after a full game on the left ankle she turned in practice Thursday.

“I think we have a lot of good defensive players on our team,” Schaefer said. “We can rotate. We’re going to need to take breaks because she plays the entire game. I think that it will benefit us that we have that depth.”

Bekkering compared Zellous to All-WCC player Kiva Herman of San Diego “in the way they penetrate and pull up but I think (Zellous) is better.

“I’m just going to try to contain her penetration, not let her beat me off the dribble, keep her in front of me and make her shoot those jump shots from farther out.”

Actually the game plan will be the same as Saturday night and everyone will participate.

“We have to. We don’t’ have anybody that can take her,” Graves said. “She’s just a tremendous player. She can do it a whole bunch of different ways. What I’m most impressed with is her ability on the board boards and get to the free throw line. … All we can do is contain her, contest her shots and try to keep her off the boards.”

Actually, the real question might be how well the Zags execute on the other end against a Pitt team that is as quick but taller than Xavier on the perimeter.

GU was successful on offense against Xavier, scoring 21 points more than the nation’s seventh-best scoring defense average and the highest total against the Musketeers all season.

“I think we’re at our best when we can run transition,” Graves said. “It seems like the second half of the season we became more of a half-court team and teams played us more physically. We handled that OK. I think we showed the ability to play a half-court game.”

Pitt is also an up-tempo team, averaging 74.1 points a game, 15th in the nation, and allows 58.6 points a game. Gonzaga is 12th in scoring at 75 points a game and gives up 60.

“Montana was a slow-it-down team, so I think it’s going to be a different scenario with Gonzaga,” Zellous said. “They’re similar to us. They like to push the ball up the court and get easy transition baskets.”

If Zellous goes off, will she beat the Zags by herself, which Phillips couldn’t do?

Xenia Stewart, a 6-foot senior guard, averages 11 points a game. After that, four players average from seven to nine.

The Panthers, whose shortest starter is 5-10 junior forward Sophronia Sallard, also have an inside presence with 6-6 freshman starter Pepper Wilson (6.8 points, 6.4 rebounds) and 6-5 Selena Nwude (1.5, 1.4), 6-3 Kate Popovec (4.6, 5.0) and 6-3 Chelsea Cole (3.7, 5.4) on the bench.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting game,” Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. “They’re well coached. They

play a lot of zone, they play sagging man-to-man and they press. They sound like us.”

******************

SEATTLE – For Gonzaga’s All-West Coast Conference performers Courtney Vandersloot and Vivian Frieson, playing in the NCAA Tournament in Seattle is a double bonus.

 Vandersloot was a high school star at Kentwood and Frieson at Garfield.

Those ties helped the boost the partisan Bulldog crowd in Saturday night’s 74-59 win over 20th-ranked Xavier, GU’s first win in the NCAA Tournament.

And those that missed it were certainly aware of the local standouts, who both had big games.

“When I got to my phone I had like 30 text messages,” Vandersloot said. “I said, OK, I’m not even going to try to respond to everyone but it was cool to see everyone. Those who weren’t here just said, ‘I got to see it on TV and I’m just so proud of you, I’m so happy for you.’ It was so cool.”

Frieson had the same response.

“I don’t get very good reception in here but as I walked out to the bus I started getting text after text,” she said after Sunday’s practice. “It was one of those things, you read them all, you appreciate what everyone is saying but you’re so tired, so happy, you can’t focus on texting everybody back. I must have had upwards of 30 text messages and about five voice mails.”

She also had messages on her FaceBook and MySpace pages.

“There was a lot of support,” she said. “I appreciate it.”

None of the contacts surprised her, if only because her mother has set up “this weird network” to keep friends and family informed.

“Actually I’m not surprised when I hear from anybody any more,” she said. “I kind of expect it.”

Frieson is also hoping it translate into a crowd even bigger for tonight’s 6:30 games against No. 15 Pittsburgh than the 2,853 announced Saturday.

“I hope we get that kind of crowd,” she said. “I think it’s something we deserve. We already have the best fans.  It means a whole lot.”

Compliments

Pittsburgh was very complimentary awards Gonzaga.

Panther coach Agnus Berenato’s words could be taken out of context but it was obvious from the players’ comments the Big East team wasn’t looking down at the West Coast Conference champions.

“I think Gonzaga is a great program,” Berenato said. “They’ve got a really nice little point guard. They have, obviously, a pretty good post. Both of their posts are good.”

As she went on to talk about the way the Bulldogs play, it’s obvious there was no malice intended by the words “nice little” and “pretty good.”

The Panthers stayed to watch Gonzaga after their win over Montana on Saturday.

“I think Gonzaga is a great team,” star guard Shavonte Zellous said. “They like to get the ball up the court and push it in transition. They have a great power forward and a great point guard who runs the team. I think it was a great game for us to watch and to see their style.”

Freshman Pepper Wilson, a 6-6 senior, added, “I really think they have a crafty point guard, a good inside game and some great shooters. They have a lot of energy and they play team defense. I think they’re a really good team and it will be a good matchup.”

Rumor mill

Though Oregon, according to sources, have looked at Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves to replace the fired Bev Smith and may ask permission to speak to him when the Bulldogs’ season ends, another source said, “Paul Westhead (former NBA and WNBA coach as well as Loyola Marymount men). Done deal from what I hear, has been for some time now.”


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