SEATTLE – What, you thought it would be easy?
After a no-doubt-we’re-better first half, seventh-seeded Gonzaga used a remarkable performance by refuse-to-lose senior Vivian Frieson to advance to its first Sweet 16 with a scintillating 72-71 upset over second-seeded Texas A&M in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Monday night.
Frieson hit a 12-foot pull-up jumper from the left of the lane with 17 seconds left and all the Bulldogs converged on a loose ball after an Aggies miss to earn a trip to Sacramento, where they’ll play the winner of tonight’s Vanderbilt–Xavier game Saturday.
“It means the world to me,” said Frieson, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals.
“Me and Heather (Bowman) have been a part of a lot of firsts here at this university. It felt great to go to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2007. It felt great to win our first game last year against Xavier and it feels even better to go to the Sweet 16.”
It was the second time in two years the 18th-ranked Bulldogs (29-4) played a heart-stopper in the second round at the Bank of America Arena, but this time they made all the plays down the stretch to win their 19 straight game.
When ninth-ranked Texas A&M (26-8), which beat Gonzaga 80-76 in December, had it’s biggest lead, 65-62 with 4:05 to play, Frieson knocked down her second 3-pointer of the season, the dagger according to Aggies coach Gary Blair.
After the next Aggies’ basket, Katelon Redmon tracked down an offensive rebound and was fouled, good for two free throws. Next, the Bulldogs forced a turnover and turned it into a Tiffanie Shives’ 3-pointer with 2:04 remaining to make it 70-67.
The Aggies pulled within one on a pair of Sydney Colson free throws as Courtney Vandersloot fouled out with 1:21 to play. They took the lead on a basket by Tanisha Smith with 39 seconds left, although she failed to convert on the three-point play.
“We know we’re a strong team,” said Redmon, who had 10 points off the bench. “Courtney’s a great leader but we had to stay together and know whoever was out there was going to lead us to that win.”
In other words, it was Frieson time.
“I might have seemed cool as ice (coming out of a timeout) but in my head I thought I’m not ready to go home right now, this isn’t how I want to finish my senior year,” Frieson said. “I knew if I got the ball in my hand I was going to go with it, I was going to find a way … it was just something I had to do.”
Frieson was also the closest to Danielle Adams on her contested 18-foot baseline jumper at the end.
“Give Gonzaga credit, they played hard and they made the plays when they needed to,” Blair said. “By far this is the hardest second round game since I’ve been in the NCAAs.”
Big numbers weren’t Frieson’s only contribution.
“Other than the final shot, I just think it was her calming presence tonight,” Graves said. “She was unflappable. We needed that and she stepped up and delivered.
“She’s one of those players that have a knack of doing it when it’s really important … and knows what needs to be done at certain times. Tonight she put us on her shoulders and carried us.”
It couldn’t have been more important as Vandersloot had a sub-par game, although she had a seven-point flurry to help keep the Bulldogs, and the partisan crowd of 3,142, in the game.
That came right after an 11-0 run gave the Aggies their first lead at 52-50 with 11:49 to go.
“Courtney struggled a bit, but down the stretch she made a couple of really big-time plays,” Graves said. “That’s what great players do, they find a way even on those nights when its not working. I felt she was pressing a little bit but her teammates had her back.”
A technical on Blair to start the second half gave GU it’s biggest lead, 44-31, when Shives made the two free throws. That’s apparently when his team decided to play defense. The Aggies had a 10-2 run to set up their 11-0 run.
Most of the damage was done by Adams, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Smith, who had 17 points.
Gonzaga opened the first half with a 9-2 run, closed it with a 12-2 burst and never trailed in between.
The Bulldogs had a 10-point lead before the midway point. A&M closed within one with 5 minutes left but Frieson and Janelle Bekkering combined for all 12 points in the closing surge for a 42-31 lead.
What the Bulldogs proved was they could handle everything the Aggies had.
“I don’t think that was a shock for us,” Bowman said. “Others may have seen it that way. We knew that if we were the aggressors and played the way we know how to play we would get that lead.”
She said it was a carry-over from their meeting in December, when the Zags trailed by 18 at the half.
“We knew this team, we were comfortable playing against them,” she said. “We weren’t taken back by their defense because they do have amazing pressure. Also, we wanted to beat them; we wanted to prove we could be a team to run with a very talented Texas A&M team.”
Gonzaga 72, Texas A&M 71
Percentages: FG .441. FT .778. 3-Point Goals: 6-12, .500 (Shives 3-6, Frieson 1-1, Vandersloot 1-2, Bekkering 1-3) Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 8 (Frieson 4, Bowman, Bekkering, Vandersloot, Standish). Turnovers: 17 (Frieson 2, Vandersloot 11, Lorenzo 2, Redmon, Standish) Steals: 11 (Frieson 3, Bowman, Bekkering, Vandersloot 3, Lorenzo 2, Standish). Technical Fouls: None.
|Texas A&M (26-8)||Min||M-A||M-A||O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .455. FT .533. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Carter 1-3, White 1-3, Smith 1-2, Colson 0-2) Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 8 (Elonu 2, Carter, White 2, Smith, Adams 2,). Turnovers: 18 (Elonu, Carter, White 3, Smith 7, Assarian, Colson 5,) Steals: 15 (Buchanan, Carter, White 4, Smith 3, Adams 2, Colson 4). Technical Fouls: Bench. Halftime– Gonzaga 42-31. A–3,142.