Zags gear up for high-scoring Miami

Sylvia Bullock and Shenise Johnson probably agree on a lot of things, but they sang different tunes when asked about their cross-country trip to Spokane for the first two rounds on the NCAA tournament.

Yes, the home-crowd factor for the Gonzaga women’s basketball team is still being talked about. When asked how the two Miami players felt, Johnson paused for awhile before she answered.

“I wasn’t thrilled at the location,” the John Wooden Award finalist said, “but at the fact that we have another opportunity to play.”

Bullock, on the other hand, was thrilled.

“I went to the camps here,” said Bullock, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska. “I have been here on a few occasions so I was pretty excited. My dad got to come down here and see me play so that was good.”

So were the third-seeded Hurricanes (26-6), who dispatched No. 14 Idaho State 70-41 in the opening round of the tournament on Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. They will now face the hometown darlings – the No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-5), who pulled off the “upset” over sixth-seeded Rutgers in their opener – with a trip to the Sweet 16 in Kington, R.I., on the line.

The atmosphere proved to be something Rutgers had to adjust to – because of the noise Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had to use substitutes to tell her players on the floor what to do – but if Miami is concerned about the home-crowd factor, they aren’t letting on.

“We play at Duke, we play at Maryland, so those are pretty good arenas,” Bullock said. “At Duke they are right on top of the court and at Maryland we had a record crowd this year so we have definitely had some hostile environments to play in.”

What they’re up against on the court is more of a concern.

“I have been consumed with trying to find a weakness in their offense, trying to find a weakness, trying to find mistakes that they make, trying to figure out how we’re going to make them make mistakes,” Miami coach Katie Meier said at the Huuricanes’ press conference on Sunday. “We’re still working on that.

“They’re talented and I am so impressed with the timing of their offense and so impressed with their cohesiveness. And so, we try to disrupt and they try to be not disrupted. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

It also could be a heck of a battle considering Miami and Gonzaga both run high-octane offenses.

The Hurricanes are sixth in the nation and average 76 points per game, while Gonzaga’s offense ranks eighth with a 75-points-per-game average. Both coaches were asked to consider if they thought the game score could reach the 90s for one, or both teams. While neither hopes for that, as both teams stress defense, the notion was mostly dismissed.

“If we want to have a lot of people watching, I guess I should say yes to that,” Meier joked. “I would be surprised if it got that high.”

Hey, this is the NCAA tournament. Stranger things have happened.

Aside from both coaches knowing the total importance of how their defenses respond to one another, what Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves does know is that his team will have to do a lot of the same things that it did against Rutgers.

“Miami poses the same kind of threat in that they’re athletic,” Graves said. “They love to press. They play good pressure defense. And I think what we did yesterday was, we came out and right off the get-go, we were aggressive, we were physical. We didn’t back down. And so I think we need to do the same kind of thing.

“If we play like that and share the basketball like the way we did, and obviously shoot the way we did, we’re going to be fine.”

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