A quick dip in the hotel pool marked seventh-seeded Gonzaga’s celebration for upsetting No. 3 Texas A&M;to advance to the program’s first NCAA tournament Sweet 16. There was a 5 a.m. wake-up call to catch their flight back to Spokane on Tuesday and return to practice on Wednesday.
GU’s tourney road continues to be paved with familiarity as No. 3 Xavier defeated No. 6 seed Vanderbilt to be the next opponent on Saturday at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
If the Zags (29-4) are a Cinderella, the Musketeers (29-3) provided the glass slipper.
GU upset a fifth-seeed Xavier in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA tournament at Edmundson Pavilion. Then a 12-seed, the Zags used the experience, coupled with a close 60-65 loss to No. 4 seed Pittsburgh, to provide the needed confidence they could compete on this grand stage.
“It felt great to win our first (tournament) game last year against Xavier and it feels even better to go to the Sweet 16,” said senior PF Vivian Frieson, who averaged 19.5 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, 3.5 blocks and two steals in the Seattle sub-regional.
Xavier, a fellow small private school from the Atlantic-10 conference, does have a different look this season in PF Amber Harris, the school’s all-time shot blocker. She missed last year due to a knee injury, waffling a return for the NCAA tournament. Coach Kevin McGuff advised against it, however.
Harris, who’s 6-foot-5, is averaging 16.1 points and 8.9 rebounds, shooting 56.3 percent from the field this season. She hit the winning shot with 12.3 seconds remaining to help the Musketeers advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2001. C Ta’Shia Phillips, complements with her averaged 14 points and 11.8 boards while junior PG Special Jennings makes sure it all flows, averaging 4.5 assists.
Sound familiar? Yep, that’s because the Zags have a similar trio in Frieson, undersized post Heather Bowman and PG Courtney Vandersloot. Only the Zags can execute at the speed of a fast-food chain and have as many offensive options as a value menu.
Phillips’ 6-6 stature (pictured right by The Seattle Times) and Jennings’ pressure defense won’t be a surprise because the Zags have seen it before and already faced tough assignments in getting past No. 10 seed North Carolina and TAMU in Seattle.
And just think. If Gonzaga is successful, top-seeded Stanford could await. The Cardinal defeated GU 105-75 in Palo Alto. Redemption redux? Maybe, but Xavier is up first.
“I feel like it should be tomorrow that we should be playing, not three days from now,” said Frieson on Wednesday afternoon after a no-nonsense practice. The players had Tuesday off. “It’s so far away. (But) we know what to expect, we’re not shocked. The first time we played Texas A&M;, we were all a little bit surprised at the pressure they put on us and (Monday) we were better able to handle it.
“As for playing Xavier, they have pretty much the same elements to their game – same plays and stuff. But they did add Amber Harris and that might be a difference-maker. We have to look to contain her, especially because in the last half of that Vanderbilt game, she went off. She’s not an All-American for nothing.”