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Gonzaga’s magical season reaches end

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Gonzaga Bulldogs may have survived Xavier’s one-two punch of 6-foot-6 Ta’Shia Phillips and 6-5Amber Harris but not the knockout punch of a freshman.

Katie Rutan scored 15 points, hitting four 3-pointers, as a perfect compliment to the Twin Towers’ 36 points and 24 rebounds as the third-seeded Musketeers snapped seventh-seeded Gonzaga’s 20-game winning streak 74-56 Saturday night in the Sweet 16 game Saturday night.

“It just hurts,” Heather Bowman, GU’s all-time leading scorer, said. “We have the disappointment of having that Elite Eight within our grasp and not getting there. Deep down we know this was a great team, amazing players, but right now, thinking back to the plays, the loss, it’s just too hard to see all the positives.”

Top-seeded Stanford thundered fifth-seeded Georgia 73-36 in the first game. The NCAA Tournament doubleheader at Arco Arena drew 5,784 fans.

The Cardinal (34-1) takes a 25-game winning streak into the regional final against Xavier (30-3), which has a 21-game winning streak, Monday night.

The Bulldogs (29-5) knew Phillips, who had 26 points and 18 rebounds when GU won 74-59 in their first-round meeting last year, and she came back with 22 and 14.

Harris wasn’t much of a surprise, as a two-time All-Atlantic 10 Player before a knee injury sidelined her last season, and she showed off with 14 points, including a pair of 3’s, and 10 rebounds.

But it was Rutan, a known marksman, that hurt the most because a freshman with NBA range is an unfair advantage with Phillips and Harris.

“I thought was the difference this year, they didn’t have that last year,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “We did a better job on her the second half but the big kids took over. But if you really look at it, the two inside kids had 36 and 24, that’s not outrageous against a team that’s undersized like us. We just never got that key stop.”

The Bulldogs battled the Musketeers to a stand still before closing the first half making just one of 10 shots. They only trailed 32-31 because Xavier had a string of four turnovers.

The statistics were almost even, though the dry spell dropped GU’s shooting percent to 40.

“I didn’t realize we were 1 for 10 goings into the half,” Graves said. “What I realized is we hadn’t played real well and still it was a one point game. I felt good going into halftime, I thought we were going to snap out of it.”

Harris had taken just four shots, making two, Phillips was three of five.

The second half was a different matter as Harris sparked a 9-0 run with a fast break layup and her second 3-pointer. The usually efficient GU offense started the second half 1-6, which made them 2-16 in a 9:40 span, and the deficit was 10.

The Bulldogs shot just 35.6 and were out-rebounded 47-29, a whopping minus-16 in the second half.

“They did a great job on us defensively,” Graves said after his team fell almost 25 points short of its average.

Katelan Redmon led GU with 14 points, Bowman had 12 and Tiffany Shives had 1. Courtney Vandersloot had 11 assists, five steals and a team-high seven rebounds to go with six points. Vivian Frieson, who had the huge game to get the Zags to this point, had nine points.

“We weren’t on our A game,” Bowman said. “You have to give all the credit to Xavier, they did very well, they executed, they got into their bigs. At the same time, we didn’t play our best.

“Players like that are not only good shot blockers, but that fear of your shot being blocked, they’re definitely game changers. At lot of it is us, we could have been mentally tougher. We let their pressure and size get to us.”

Bowman only had four points in the second half, Shives and Vandersloot didn’t score.

“It was a byproduct of paying good defense, especially in transition,” Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. “When you allow Gonzaga to get going in transition they are almost unstoppable.

“To be able to hold them to 56 points is an accomplishment. In the second half we wore them down.”

Xavier point guard Special Jennings had 12 points, five assists and four steals.

“We tried to pressure the perimeter but Special Jennings had a greaet night and Rutan comes in and makes some 3’s,” Graves said. “They really took it to us. They deserved the win, the played better than us, they played hard than we did for a good stretch of the second half.”