SEATTLE — Twenty minutes in December made Gonzaga fearless in March.
And now its the Bulldogs heading to the regional semifinals and Texas A&M; going home.
Vivian Frieson scored 23 points, including the go-ahead 12-footer with 17 seconds left, to lead seventh-seeded Gonzaga to a 72-71 upset win over second-seeded Texas A&M; on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
Texas A&M; went ahead on Tanisha Smith’s baseline drive with 37 seconds left while being fouled. But Smith fell hard on her hip and missed the ensuing free throw.
With West Coast Conference MVP Courtney Vandersloot having fouled out, the Bulldogs (29-4) went to Frieson, their senior leader. She drove left of the lane and pulled up for her eighth basket of the game.
Texas A&M; had one last chance, but the Bulldogs defense harassed Danielle Adams into a forced jumper from 18 feet as time ticked away. The shot was short and the Bulldogs were on their way to the regional semifinals for the first time in school history, setting off a wild celebration for Gonzaga.
Adams, the Aggies center, led A&M; (26-8) with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but couldn’t lead the Aggies back from an 13-point deficit in the opening moments of the second half.
Tiffanie Shives scored 11 points and Katelan Redmon added 10 for Gonzaga, who will face the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Vanderbilt and Xavier on Saturday night in Sacramento. Vandersloot, the Bulldogs spunky engine, suffered through one of her worst games of the season with just nine points and 11 turnovers, but the Bulldogs are moving on.
It was the middle of December, in Las Vegas, when Gonzaga and Texas A&M; met for the first time. For the first 20 minutes, the Aggies did as expected and dominated the smaller, less athletic Bulldogs.
But something flipped in the second half for Gonzaga. They tore away the mystique of their Big 12 foes and proved most importantly to themselves they belonged on the same stage as a ranked team like the Aggies. Gonzaga turned a 20-point deficit into a narrow four-point loss to the Aggies on that December evening in front of few hundred people in a casino events center. Admittedly, the Bulldogs say it was the turning point in their season.
They haven’t lost since.
Gonzaga bolted to an 11-point halftime lead, forcing the Aggies into uncharacteristic mistakes and closing the first-half on a 12-2 run to take a 42-31 lead.
That lead grew to 44-31 in the first moments of the second half after A&M; coach Gary Blair was called for a technical foul, storming a few feet on the court after a no-call. That ignited the Aggies, who outscored Gonzaga 21-6 over the next 8 minutes and took their first lead on Smith’s 3-pointer with 11:49 left. Kayla Standish answered for the Bulldogs and started a back-and-forth final 11 minutes where neither team ever led by more than three points.
Gonzaga seemed to withstand the Aggies charge and took a 70-67 lead on Shives 3-pointer with 2:07 left. But the Aggies answered with free throws by Sydney Colson and Smith’s driving basket to retake the lead.
Smith finished with 17 points, 13 coming in the second half and Tyra White scored 11.