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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Past success may help Gonzaga women in NCAA opener at Stanford

Coach Tara VanDerveer and Stanford won it all in 1990 and 1992. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The Gonzaga women aren’t your typical underdog, and Stanford knows it.

Only 16 months ago, GU won a nonconference game over the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion, the site of Saturday’s first-round NCAA women’s tournament game.

How many 13 seeds can say that?

If that offers the Zags some confidence, it also gives the Cardinal some incentive.

“Our team is really excited,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said after the bracket was revealed. “We’ve had good practices last week, and we’re ready to go.”

The other first-round game is just as intriguing, pitting a 30-4 Florida Gulf Coast team against a fifth-seeded Missouri squad that has the nation’s third-best 3-point shooter in Sophie Cunningham.

Winners will play Monday for a chance to advance to the Lexington Regional in Kentucky, but the Zags quickly moved their focus on Stanford.

So much has changed – for both teams – since Nov. 18, 2016, when the Zags knocked off the seventh-ranked Cardinal, 68-63.

The leading scorer in that game – GU’s first over Stanford in eight tries – was a rising GU sophomore named Jill Barta, who had a game-high 26 points.

Also in the starting lineup that night were two other current GU starters, guards Laura Stockton and Emma Wolfram.

The high scorer for Stanford in that game was guard Brittany McPhee, now a two-time All-American for a team that is 22-10 overall and finished second behind Oregon in the Pac-12. The Cardinal has won 10 of their last 12, but is coming off a 20-point loss to the Ducks in the conference title game.

Stanford is the most pedigreed program in the West, with 32 NCAA appearances. The Cardinal have reached the Final Four on 13 occasions and won it all in 1990 and 1992.

“We have a lot of respect to Stanford,” Fortier said. “They’re perennially the best program the rest of us are chasing. It’s going to be exciting.”

Fifth-seeded Missouri (24-7) has lost five of its last 12, but lost by only four points to second-ranked Mississippi State.

Cunningham, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, shoots 46.6 percent from 3-point range and averages 18 points.

Florida Gulf Coast is making only its fourth NCAA appearance, but has won 20 of its last 21 games. The balanced Eagles have eight players averaging at least seven points.