If you think the Gonzaga players are glad they don’t have to play Xavier in their next NCAA basketball tournament game, you’re right.
But if you think that means the Bulldogs will have an easier time against Louisville in the Sweet 16 game at the Arena Saturday night, think again.
That’s because the 11th-seeded Zags know how good second-seeded Xavier was after facing them in the past two NCAA tournaments. So they can infer how good seventh-seeded Louisville must be after knocking off the Musketeers.
“We had the mentality we were going to play Xavier because that’s who was expected to win,” Gonzaga star guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “Louisville beat a very good team and they deserved to win the game. They have some gamers on their team.
With 33 points from Shoni Schimmel, a freshman guard out of Oregon, the Cardinals (22-12) out-scored Xavier 22-5 down the stretch to win 85-75. The Musketeers (29-3) had won 19 straight games this season and 25 straight on their home court.
Xavier was built around a dominating front line of 6-foot-6 Ta’Shia Phillips and 6-5 Amber Harris, who combined for 36 points and 24 rebounds when the Musketeers pounded the Bulldogs 73-56 in the Sweet 16 in Sacramento last year.
“I’m not too bummed we don’t have to play them with their height and strength,” 6-2 Gonzaga forward Kayla Standish said. “I’m tall but I’m not tall compared to them. I’m not very big.”
The year before, when Harris was sitting out with a leg injury, the Bulldogs won a first-round game 74-59 despite 26 points and 18 rebounds by Phillips.
“In the back of your mind, you think the third time against Xavier, the rubber match, so to speak,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “I didn’t really watch the game … I was with my sons, we were out playing basketball. Not to slight the opponent, I knew I would get the tape. I wasn’t in the moment.
“It’s a different game plan. I’m looking forward to (the challenge). Louisville is a name program from an awesome conference – Big 10, Pac 10 and now Big East.”
“It didn’t matter who we played,” senior wing Janelle Bekkering said. “I thought Xavier would win. I think we have the same outlook, going out there and competing.
“It will definitely be a different game plan, just because Xavier had the two big posts. We won’t have to defend that, but Louisville has some really good guards and shooters.”
Kelly Bowen, another forward, said, “I’m happy. I think Louisville is a good matchup. I won’t say better, but if we would have been playing Xavier we would have had to adjust to playing against two big bodies.
“Louisville doesn’t have the big-body presence but they definitely have some very nice guards. We have to adjust in a different way. We can adapt to that. We can run a little faster, we can put our hands up but we can’t grow.”
After the Bulldogs and Cardinals meet in the 6 p.m. game – and there are not many tickets remaining – the second game is between top-seeded Stanford (31-2) and fifth-seeded North Carolina (27-8). Gonzaga played the Cardinal in the second game of the season and beat the Tar Heels in the opening round of the NCAA last year.
“I don’t really think about who I’m going to play until I know for sure,” junior wing Katelan Redmon said. “It would have been weird playing Xavier for three years in a row.
“I’m excited to play Louisville. We’ve never played them before. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The team had gathered to watch the game at an assistant coach’s house.
“At first we wanted to play Xavier just because we were familiar with them but at the same time, this is a new season, a new team, somebody that doesn’t know us and we don’t know them,” Vandersloot said. “That’s what the NCAA tournament is all about.”
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