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Gonzaga women downplay role as giant killers against OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – With one upset in the books, the Gonzaga women’s basketball team seeks another today on the home court of the Pac-12 champions for the chance to play in Spokane for the Sweet 16.

No. 11 seed Gonzaga (25-7) plays No. 3 seed Oregon State (27-4) in Gill Coliseum at 4 p.m. today in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The No. 10 Beavers beat No. 14 seed South Dakota State 74-62 on Friday to advance.

But GU coach Lisa Fortier downplayed the team’s role of potential giant killer, just as she did before the Bulldogs upset No. 6 seed George Washington 82-69 on Friday.

“This time of year, (seeding) truly doesn’t matter,” Fortier said. “It comes down to who wants it the most.”

The game matches teams that won their conferences with the same 16-2 record. They also stumbled on the way home with both teams losing three games late in the season, including unexpected exits from conference tournaments, before both earned tournament wins Friday.

“We are two programs that have something to prove,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “It’s her first go around (as coach). For us, it’s the first time being the favorite.”

Both coaches said they have a familiarity with the other team.

“We recruited in the same circles. We’ve been watching those kids for a long time,” Rueck said. “I think Gonzaga has everyone’s attention. Everyone knows … how good they are.”

But the Beavers’ resume is impressive. OSU has five wins over teams ranked in the Top 25, including a victory over then-No. 5 North Carolina and two wins over No. 9 Arizona State.

They are led by wing Jamie Weisner of Clarkston, point guard Sydney Wiese and Pac-12 player of the year Ruth Hamblin, a 6-foot-6 center who can impose her will. They average about 13 points each.

“That’s what makes Oregon State so good,” Fortier said. “Their point guard, center and wing can all score. It’s going to come down to … defending as a team.”

Assistant coach Craig Fortier focuses on coaching Gonzaga’s post players. He said the Bulldogs have a tall order in containing Hamblin, who averages 8.8 rebounds and about four blocks per game.

“She’s such a solid fundamental player, and so much of what she does happens before she gets the ball,” Craig Fortier said.

Most of the duty of guarding Hamblin will fall on 6-5 center Shelby Cheslek of Pullman.

“I don’t mind playing the tall post,” Cheslek said. “I think it’s a fun challenge and I’m looking forward to taking on Hamblin.”

Rueck said he thinks both teams have the size to cancel out the other team’s advantage.

“It’s an intriguing matchup … for what I think will be a phenomenal game,” Rueck said.

Shaniqua Nilles, who played at West Valley, said the only thing the Bulldogs can control is how hard they play.

“We have to match their intensity,” Nilles said. “Team defense and toughness is the key to staying in the NCAA tournament as long as we can.”

Fortier said her team understands the importance of the chance to reach the Sweet 16 and play in Spokane.

“I think that would be tremendous,” she said. “That’s the beauty of March. If we can get back home, then maybe the extra Gonzaga (fans) would help us do something special.”

S-R reporter Jim Allen contributed to this report.


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