In the northeast corner of the Kennel, a row of fans held up a clever sign that read, “It’s never hurricane season in Spokane.”
And even though the Miami Hurricanes – with the sixth-highest scoring offense in the country – made waves during their cross-country trip, the Gonzaga Bulldogs never believed they were the underdogs.
They never played like it, either.
In front of a rowdy, sold-out crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center, the 11th-seeded Bulldogs put up a tenacious fight down the stretch on Monday night, earning a trip to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year by taking down a tough No. 3-seeded Miami team 65-54 in the second round of the women’s NCAA basketball tournament.
“We know we’re a very good team,” Gonzaga senior Katelan Redmon said, responding to being called the underdog in both Spokane games. “We can compete with any team out there.”
The Bulldogs (28-5) proved that statement, earning a cross-country trip of their own. Gonzaga heads to Kingston, R.I., for the Sweet 16, where it will face No. 2 Kentucky on Sunday.
“Sometimes I get on my team for being a little bit soft,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “But I thought tonight we showed a lot of grit.”
Beyond the grit, the Bulldogs showed poise.
Senior Kayla Standish led Gonzaga with 19 points – 12 in the first half – eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. Fellow senior Redmon added 16 points and eight rebounds (seven of them defensive), and sophomore Haiden Palmer finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
But there were also key moments down the stretch – Palmer’s aggressive battle for a loose ball and senior Kelly Bowen’s 3-point bucket (her only points of the game) from the right wing that gave the Bulldogs their final lead (after 11 lead changes) and sparked a 17-6 scoring run in the last five minutes of the game – that put Gonzaga’s toughness on display.
“That play – that loose ball – epitomized our game tonight,” Graves said. “There was no quit in (Haiden). The one thing about Haiden – she does some things from time to time, you know, head-scratchers. And I don’t have much hair left to scratch. But then she’ll come back and do something like that and it energizes the team.
“I think she epitomizes what this group is about. We play with heart. We’re tough.”
What made the victory even sweeter for the Bulldogs was a formidably tough opponent in the Hurricanes (26-7).
Miami trailed 30-27 at halftime and outrebounded Gonzaga 16-6 in the first eight minutes of the second half, taking the lead at 44-43 when senior guard Shenise Johnson – a John Wooden Award finalist – hit a long jumper with 7:39 left to play.
But Bowen nailed her 3-pointer 90 seconds later, and Gonzaga stormed ahead with an 11-2 run. Palmer, Redmon and Standish scored the other eight points during the run, which proved too much for Miami.
In the end, it may not have been the Hurricanes’ season – though Miami coach Katie Meier’s team has come astoundingly far in the past four years with players like Johnson paving a path of success. But Meier and her Hurricanes weren’t hanging their heads in sorrow following the loss.
“Usually when you lose a game like this and it’s your last game, you have such special seniors, you’re kind of devastated as a coach,” Meier said. “We did not play our best basketball game, but we played as hard as we could possibly play. But we do not feel like losers. We lost to a fantastic team who had a great game tonight.”
A team of Bulldogs – not underdogs.
Percentages: FG .328, FT .900. 3-Point Goals: 1-12, .083 (Saunders 1-5, S. Williams 0-1, Yderstrom 0-2, Johnson 0-4). Team Rebounds: 8. Blocked Shots: 4 (Wilson 2, Brown, Bullock). Turnovers: 12 (Johnson 3, Yderstrom 2, Bullock 2, McGuire, Woods, Wilson, Capers). Steals: 5 (Yderstrom 2, Brown, Bullock, Johnson). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .431, FT .647. 3-Point Goals: 4-17, .235 (Palmer 2-6, Bowen 1-4, Karr 1-4, J. Redmon 0-3). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 6 (Standish 2, Palmer 2, Karr, K. Redmon). Turnovers: 11 (Palmer 3, Standish 2, K. Redmon 2, Bowen 2, Karr). Steals: 2 (J. Redmon, Bowen). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Gonzaga 30-27. A—5,824.
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