SEATTLE – Sometimes the size was intimidating and the speed was always a concern but the Gonzaga women’s basketball players never doubted they were going to beat storied North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Seventh-seeded and 18th-ranked Gonzaga put on a show for a partisan crowd of 3,656, defeating the 10th-seeded Tar Heels 82-76 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday night.
“We haven’t had a close game in about three months,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “I know there were some concerns about how we would play down the stretch but I was proud of our team and how they responded.”
The Zags, advancing past the first round for the second straight year on the same court, face ninth-ranked and second-seeded Texas A&M (26-7) Monday at 6:40 p.m. in a rematch of a December 80-76 Aggies win
There were a number of reasons the Bulldogs (28-4) made their 19th straight win what Graves called their first signature win.
“This is a great day for our institution,” he said. “North Carolina is really the standard by which a lot of college basketball programs are judged so we feel very fortunate and very blessed today.”
It starts with two seniorswho wanted that signature win against a program that manhandled them 101-63 when they were freshmen.
Heather Bowman, the Zags’ all-time leading scorer, had 14 points, five rebounds and three steals, and Vivian Frieson had 16 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Then there was Tiffanie Shives, a senior who transferred to GU after one season at Michigan State. Invisible for more than 30 minutes, crediting Shives’ 16 points for the victory is not a reach.
She made her first basket with 8:59 left, then hit four 3s in four attempts in three minutes, reviving a Bulldog offense that had stalled. The first 3, at 7:25, gave GU a 63-62 lead. The next forced North Carolina Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell to call a timeout.
When the Tar Heels (19-12) went inside to 6-foot-1 sophomore Laura Bloomfield, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds, for a three-point play, Shives got that back 12 seconds later.
Chay Shegog, a 6-5 sophomore who had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Bloomfield scored inside around a GU turnover, tying the game at 69 with 5 minutes left. But Shives connected again on the next possession to give the Zags the lead for good.
The first-half spark was provided by redshirt sophomore Katelan Redmon.
Redmon scored 14 of her 18 points in a 4:25 span that helped the Bulldogs erase UNC’s early 13-5 lead. In a 13-0 surge that produced an 18-13 lead, she scored the final seven, then had five more, including her second 3, in an 8-0 spurt to produce GU’s biggest lead, 24-15. She finished 8 of 11 shooting.
“The thing that’s so great about this team is we have so many different weapons so you never know when you’re going to get called on,” said Shives, who finished 5 of 8 from the field. “Everybody was just playing their role so it was finally time for me to knock down some shots.”
Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot guided the Bulldogs from beginning to end, finishing with 15 assists and five steals to go with nine points and just six turnovers against the aggressive Tar Heels.
“Courtney did a great job pushing the tempo,” Redmon said. “She was getting us open on the wings and we were making some easy shots.”
Shives added: “Courtney is so special she just demands so much attention. When teams focus on her then I get the benefit of that.”
That led to 48 percent shooting, 50 percent in the first half when the Bulldogs led 48-44.
“Give Gonzaga credit, they’re an excellent shooting team,” Hatchell said. “Whenever we sort of had some things under control they came down and made big baskets.”