SEATTLE – Can the Gonzaga women’s basketball team do outside what it did inside?
How well the Bulldogs answer that question tonight at Hec Edmundson 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 on Saturday night for their first tournament win, the Bulldogs (27-6) turn their attention to No. 15 Pittsburgh (24-7) and three-time All-Big East guard Shavonte Zellous.
Zellous, Pitt’s all-time leading scorer who is seventh in the nation at 22.5 points per game, scored 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 of 58) if you take away Phillips’ 11 of 18.
Zellous was 13 of 27 against Montana.
The Bulldogs were impressed but not 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,” she said.
The real question might be how well the Zags execute on offense against a Pitt team that is as quick as Xavier, but taller 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 per game, 15th in the nation, and allows 58.6 points per game. Gonzaga is 12th in scoring at 75 points a game and gives up 60.